MIDDLE EAST

Israel deploys tanks near Gaza before Saturday rallies

The Israeli army has deployed reinforcements along fraught Gaza-Israel buffer zone in advance of anticipated Palestinian rallies on Saturday marking the first anniversary of Gaza's "Great Return" march.

Saturday's planned demonstration will also mark Palestinian Land Day, which commemorates the killing of six Arab-Israelis by Israeli forces in 1976 during protests against land confiscations.

In the run-up to Saturday's rallies, the army has deployed numerous tanks and armored vehicles along the buffer zone. It is also reportedly monitoring the region with surveillance balloons and positioning snipers throughout the area.

On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly instructed the army to prepare for the possibility of a "broad" campaign in Gaza.

- MOUNTING TENSIONS
According to Yael Lachvani, a spokeswoman for Nahal Oz, a Jewish kibbutz (agricultural community) located less than one kilometer from the buffer zone, recent escalations between Israel and Gaza-based resistance groups have adversely affected daily life in the region.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Lachvani called on Palestinians and Israelis to live together in peace, voicing hope for a better life for her children and the Palestinians "on the other side" of the buffer zone.

Since Palestinians began holding regular rallies along the buffer zone on March 30 of last year, more than 250 demonstrators have been killed by Israeli army gunfire.

In a report released last month, the UN said that Israeli aggression against Gazan protesters over the course of the last year -- including the intentional targeting of unarmed demonstrators -- could be viewed as a "war crime".

Demonstrators demand the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in historical Palestine, from which they were driven in 1948 to make way for the new state of Israel.

They also demand an end to Israel's 12-year blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has gutted the coastal enclave's economy and deprived its roughly two million inhabitants of many basic commodities.

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