“March of Return” Anniversary Comes and Goes Without Much to Show for Hamas
The one-year anniversary of the “March of Return” protests, which coincided with the politically- and emotionally-charged “Land Day,” came and went without Hamas having much to show except for at least three more dead Gazans. The terror group that rules the enclave had hoped to draw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to riot and confront Israeli forces along the security fence, but only a fraction showed up. In fact, in accordance with a reported informal cease-fire brokered by Egyptian mediators, Hamas created and enforced a buffer zone along the border to prevent proceedings from spiraling out of control. Nevertheless, the tense calm was challenged just past midnight on Sunday, when five rockets were fired – likely by the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad, according to the Israeli army – from the enclave toward Israel, triggering sirens in surrounding communities but causing no injuries or damage. These developments come amid heightened tensions between Israel and Hamas. Over the past month, three rockets have been launched toward central Israeli communities, one of which leveled a home and injured seven people. Israel responded with measured air strikes targeting key installations in the Gaza Strip – such as the office of Hamas leader Ismael Haniyeh – with a view to sending the group a message without sparking a major escalation. Jerusalem does not want to go to war ahead of the April 9 national elections, but nevertheless has vowed to respond “forcefully” if Hamas persists with its provocations. Meanwhile, crossing points from Israel to the Gaza Strip were reopened on Sunday, a move construed as evidence that both sides were, for the time being, intent on returning to the fragile, albeit undoubtedly unsustainable, status quo.