MIDDLE EAST

Gaza groups warn Israel against attacking protesters

Two Palestinian resistance groups have warned Israel against attacking protesters during planned mass rallies in the Gaza Strip on Saturday.

Thousands of Palestinians are set to stage mass protests in Gaza to mark the first anniversary of anti-occupation protests and the 43rd anniversary of the Land Day when six people were killed in 1976 during demonstrations against seizure of Arab land in Galilee.

"Any Israeli assault on the marches will be met with an equal response," the Islamic Jihad group said following a meeting between group chief Jihad al-Nakhla and Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Aarouri in Lebanese capital Beirut.

During the meeting, the two groups agreed to "coordinate steps that should be taken in the face of any aggression against the marches", the group's website said.

In the run-up to Saturday's rallies, the Israeli army has deployed numerous tanks and armored vehicles along the buffer zone with the Gaza Strip.

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

Nearly 270 Palestinian demonstrators have been martyred by Israeli army gunfire since Palestinians began holding regular demonstrations along the Gaza-Israel buffer zone in March of last year.

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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