Within the space of an hour the protest, which at its height numbered around 40,000, dropped to some 20,000. By 6 p.m. local time -- and an hour before it was officially due to finish -- there were just a few stragglers left milling around the border fence.
As the much-anticipated demonstrations, which saw so much bloodshed last year, came to an end, Hamas hailed the "Great March of Return" movement and said it had "achieved some of its goals."
Compared to so many previous occasions, Saturday’s protests were largely peaceful, with one person killed and 207 injured, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health – much lower numbers than we have seen in the past.
Politburo member Khalil Al-Hayya said in a statement that he expected on Sunday to learn details of a timetable by which Israel would ease restrictions on Gaza. This would be part of ongoing Egyptian-led mediation efforts to achieve a long-term ceasefire understanding between Israel and Hamas.
Indeed a senior UN official speaking to CNN said Saturday’s protests were being seen as a test for Hamas.
“Some kind of deal is being tested today: Hamas’s intentions and ability to control things,” the official said. He suggested that if Hamas succeeded in stopping the demonstration from turning violent, and keeping provocations against Israeli forces to a minimum, then the understandings reached between Israel and Hamas could move forward.
But he warned that elements of any deal might not start to materialize until after the Israeli elections on April 9.
Less than five hours after the protests first started, the crowds have begun to thin out.
CNN's Oren Liebermann was given a close-up look at the scene from the Israeli side in Nahal Oz.
Today's protest marks one year since the start of the "Great March of Return" rallies along the Israel-Gaza border.
The protest -- which began on March 30, 2018 -- had originally been scheduled to run up to May 15, marking the 70th anniversary of the creation of Israel and what Palestinians call "Nakba Day."
But the protests have continued on a weekly basis. While the majority of protesters have been peaceful, the Israeli army has regularly reported people throwing explosives at Israeli soldiers and attempts to break through the fence into Israel. The demonstrations have also given rise to the use of burning kites and balloons, devices launched from Gaza towards Israel with the intention of causing fires when they land.
According to the United Nations:
- 195 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in protests between March 30, 2018 and March 22, 2019.
- 1 Israeli soldier was also killed.
Meanwhile at today's protests, the Palestinian Ministry for Health reported:
- 138 protesters injured
- 1 Palestinian teenager killed by Israeli forces today. Another 21-year-old man was killed last night ahead of the protests.
A 17-year-old boy, Adham Amara, has been killed by Israeli forces along the border fence, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
Earlier Saturday before the protests began, 21-year-old Mohammed Sa’ad, was also killed in Gaza by Israeli troops, Ministry officials said.
The number of protesters gathering along the Israel-Gaza border fence has now swelled to 30,000, according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
A number of grenades and explosive devices have been thrown towards the fence and tires set on fire, it said. But it also acknowledged attempts on the Gaza side to restrain violence.
According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health:
- 1 protester was killed overnight, 21--year-old Mohammed Sa'ad.
- 33 people have been injured in today's demonstration
In the past few hours the number of Palestinian protesters has swelled from a few hundred to thousands, reports CNN's Michael Holmes on the Gaza border.
Around 8,000 Hamas marshals were tasked with keeping the protesters away from the fence. But hundreds of Palestinians could now be seen just 100 to 200 meters from the fence.
"There have been injuries but we don't know if that's from the live fire or the tear gas -- which has been pretty constant since the protests began," said Holmes.
Head towards the rear of the protests and the mood changes completely, reports CNN's Michael Holmes in Jabalya, Gaza.
Instead of tear gas you'll find a children's playground, stalls and even bunting of Palestinian flags flapping in the wind.
"It's almost a festive atmosphere," said Holmes.
Meanwhile on the Israeli side, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) appeared "fairly relaxed and calm," reports CNN's Oren Libermann, located around half a mile from the border fence.
Around 6,500 Palestinian demonstrators were spread out across six sites, he said, adding that there had been a few small explosive devices but "nothing major" on the Israeli side.
But the IDF also wasn't taking any chances, installing at least three infantry brigades along the border -- something it wouldn't usually publicize -- in a clear show of force to protesters.
The IDF confirmed it had fired tear gas -- but not live fire -- since the protests began.
It also acknowledged that there had been an effort to restrain protests on the Gaza side.
Ahead of the protests, a 21-year old man -- named Mohammed Sa'ad -- was killed by Israeli forces in Gaza overnight, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
Medics said Sa'ad was killed by bullet shrapnel near the Israel-Gaza border, Reuters reported.