BEIT HANOUN, Gaza Strip -- As Israelis watched nervously from across the border, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip staged protests last night against the Jewish state, placing a few thousand placard-waving demonstrators along the main highway.
Five rockets were also fired into Israel, one of them injuring a 10-year-old boy in the town of Sederot as an air-raid siren sent him and his 8-year-old sister, who were playing near their home, rushing for cover against a wall. He underwent surgery for severe shrapnel wounds in his right shoulder.
Israel had braced for a day of far more trouble. Incoming rocket fire is a near-daily occurrence in Sederot and other communities near Gaza, but after a civic group linked to Hamas called for a human chain of 40,000 people along the strip's 25-mile length, the army sent troops to prevent a mass storming of the border.
Thousands of Israeli troops and police were deployed along the border fence and were backed, according to Israeli news media reports, by an artillery battery and a team of snipers.
But the turnout for the 2 1/2 -hour demonstration, a protest against Israel's blockade of the coastal enclave, fell far below expectations and was mostly peaceful.
As the crowd was dispersing, about 200 people tried to march to the border, but Hamas police turned most of them back. Many of the others, 40 teenage boys throwing rocks, were arrested by Israeli border guards.
Israeli officials were relieved. But Palestinian organizers, attributing the low turnout to bad weather, said larger demonstrations would be held to press for an end to what they call a siege of Gaza's 1.5 million residents.
Israel imposed its blockade after Hamas violently took control of Gaza in June, ending a power-sharing arrangement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah forces, which now control only the West Bank.
Israel and the United States consider Hamas to be a terrorist group. Its followers have killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks.
Stepped-up rocket fire from Gaza last month prompted a tightening of the sanctions, causing chronic shortages of food, medical supplies, fuel and electricity. .
Hamas' response to the tighter restrictions alarmed Israeli leaders. Militants used explosives last month to knock down part of the wall along Gaza's border with Egypt, enabling hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to pour across and buy scarce goods for 12 days.
Predictions reached a point of hysteria on Israel's airwaves in the run-up to yesterday's demonstration. Effie Eitam, an ultranationalist member of the Israeli parliament, told Israel radio: "The mob will stream into our territory. ... It will be the end of the state of Israel."
Palestinian organizers said that was never the intention. They ordered demonstrators to keep at least 1,100 yards away from the border.
"This is a peaceful event aimed to send a message to the world that the people of Gaza want to live in freedom," said Jamal Khoudary, an independent Palestinian lawmaker who is close to Hamas and whose Popular Committee Against the Siege staged the protest.
Most of the demonstrators were schoolchildren and university students. Organizers said four children from each classroom had been chosen to take part.
Rushdi abu Alouf and Richard Boudreaux write for the Los Angeles Times.