Mass rallies planned for next week along the border with Israel have been cancelled amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus in the Gaza Strip, organizers said on Saturday.
The rallies were called for March 30 to mark the second anniversary of the so-called "Great March of Return" which had prompted weekly protests by Palestinians seeking to regain access to land, now in Israel, from which their ancestors were forced to flee during the country's creation in 1948.
"We call upon our people not to go to the Return encampments on March 30 and to stay home in order to maintain the safety of our people in the face of this lethal pandemic," said Khaled al-Batsh, a senior member of the Islamic Jihad militant group.
Instead, Batsh called upon Gazans to mark the day by raising Palestinian flags on their rooftops and burning Israeli ones.
According to Gaza medical officials, 215 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers firing from the other side of the border during the protests, with another 8,000 suffering gunshot wounds. In the past few months, the weekly protests have been smaller.
One Israeli soldier was killed by a Palestinian sniper during the demonstrations.
So far, nine out of the 97 coronavirus cases confirmed in the Palestinian territories have been confirmed in the Gaza Strip.
Gaza's hospitals, which were overwhelmed during the protests by gunshot wounds and amputations, are now gearing up for the challenge of containing the coronavirus in the coastal enclave of two million Palestinians, many living in refugee camps.
Gaza's healthcare infrastructure has been severely eroded by years of conflict and isolation. A major outbreak in the territory could be extremely difficult to contain.