Israeli army fire into Hamas-led Gaza protests as Egypt tries to broker truce
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Gaza's Hamas rulers led several thousand Palestinians in a protest along the frontier with Israel on Friday - a show of presence by Hamas as Egyptian efforts intensify to broker a broad truce between the Islamic militant group and Israel.
A 25-year-old Palestinian was killed and 90 were wounded by Israeli army fire, Gaza health officials said. It was the latest in a series of protests along Gaza's perimeter fence with Israel, aimed in part at trying to break an 11-year-old border blockade. Israel and Egypt sealed Gaza in 2007, after Hamas overran the territory.
Friday's protest was attended by several exiled Hamas leaders who had entered Gaza a day earlier for meetings of the group's decision-making political bureau. "We want to break the siege on Gaza once and forever," said Hussam Badran, one of the visiting Hamas leaders.
The political bureau is discussing Egyptian proposals for a truce with Israel and the U.N.-led reconstruction of Gaza, said Ghazi Hamad, a Gaza-based official in the group. Meetings began Thursday and will continue through Saturday, Hamad said. It marked the first time all members of the political bureau got together in Gaza, Hamas has said.
Over the years, truce deals have proven fragile, and it was not clear if the current efforts would succeed. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday called off a planned trip to South America and scheduled a meeting of his security Cabinet for Sunday to monitor Gaza developments.
Tensions along the Israel-Gaza fence have escalated since Hamas launched regular protests in the area in late March. Large turnout has also been driven by widespread desperation in Gaza, amid worsening conditions linked to the blockade. Power is on for just a few hours a day, unemployment has sky-rocketed and poverty is widening.
Friday's death brought to 156 the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli fire since late March, including at least 118 in protests near the fence. Others, among them armed Hamas militants, have been killed in attempted border attacks or in Israeli airstrikes. Several thousand Gazans have been wounded by Israeli fire since March.
The Israeli military said that about 8,000 Palestinians took part in Friday's rally. It said a tank fired at a Hamas military post in Gaza after Palestinians briefly crossed the frontier and threw bombs. The military said its soldiers sustained no casualties in the incident.
In one area east of Gaza City, protesters burned tires, releasing thick plumes of black smoke. Some flew kites with burning rags attached - a tactic that has widened in recent weeks, with the aim of setting fires in Israel, and has drawn Israeli retaliation. Israeli troops fired tear gas and live rounds, wounding several protesters and a medic.
In another development, a boat carrying activists challenging Israel's naval blockade of Gaza is approaching the territory, said the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, an umbrella group for pro-Palestinian and Islamic charities from around the world.
The coalition said Friday that the Swedish-flagged vessel, Freedom, was nearly 60 miles (95 kilometers) off the coast. The boat and another vessel, which was intercepted by Israeli forces on Sunday, set sail to Gaza from Europe last week.
The Israeli military had no immediate comment.
Activists have made several attempts to breach the blockade in recent years, most notably in 2010, when Israeli naval commandos killed nine Turks in a raid at sea.