GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The United Nations' Mideast peace envoy urged Israel and the Palestinians to exercise restraint Friday ahead of protests organized by Hamas on the Gaza Strip's border fence.
Thousands of Palestinian protesters were expected to mass along Israel's border with Gaza for another weekly protest, testing Egypt's efforts to mediate a lasting cease-fire between Israel and the militant Hamas group.
Mosque loudspeakers in the Palestinian enclave urged Gazans to attend Friday's demonstrations, despite statements by Gaza's leaders that Hamas seeks to rein in the protests.
"In light of today's planned Gaza march, I urge all to exercise restraint, to proceed in a peaceful manner, and to avoid escalation," Nickolay Mladenov said in a statement. "The U.N. is working with Egypt and its partners to avoid violence, address all humanitarian issues and support reconciliation."
Egyptian intelligence officials met with Hamas and Israeli officials on Thursday in efforts to broker a cease-fire and ease months of deadly border protests. Egypt and the U.N. have attempted to negotiate a truce between Israel and Hamas for weeks in a bid to ease tensions in the beleaguered Gaza Strip.
Hamas has organized weekly protests since March that seek, in part, to secure an easing of the Egyptian-Israeli blockade of the Palestinian enclave imposed after the Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in 2007 in an armed coup.
At least 156 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire at the protests, and an Israeli solider was killed by a Palestinian sniper.
The protests have intensified in recent weeks as Egyptian and U.N. cease-fire negotiations have faltered, and cross-border violence earlier this week has brought tensions to a simmer.
On Wednesday, a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip destroyed a house in the Israeli city of Beersheba in the worst bout of violence in recent weeks. Israel retaliated with airstrikes and has beefed up its military forces along the border. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Security Cabinet resolved to retaliate more severely to cross-border attacks, but has thus far refrained from further action, suggesting it was giving the Egyptians a chance to restore calm.
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