GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Militants fired five rockets from Gaza into Israel early Sunday, the Israeli military said, following a day of Palestinian mass protests along the Israel-Gaza perimeter fence. Four Palestinians, including three teenagers, were shot dead and dozens were wounded by Israeli soldiers.The rocket fire threatened to undermine Egyptian-mediated efforts to cement a deal that the Gaza Strip's Hamas rulers hope will ease a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the crowded territory.No casualties were reported from the rockets and no Palestinian group claimed responsibility.Tens of thousands of Palestinians rallied in the Gaza Strip on Saturday to mark the anniversary of their mass protests along the Israeli border.Most demonstrators kept their distance from the border, though small crowds of activists approached the perimeter fence and threw stones and explosives toward Israeli troops on the other side. The forces fired tear gas and opened fire, killing four Palestinians and wounding 64.Hamas had pledged to keep the crowds a safe distance from the fence to avoid inflaming the political atmosphere during negotiations of a possible easing of the blockade.Hamas officials say that Israel is offering a package of economic incentives in exchange for calm along the volatile border.Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official, said the group had received "positive signs" from the Egyptians. He added that the Egyptian team was to return to Israel on Sunday to continue the talks. "We will continue our marches until all our goals are achieved," he said.Saturday's protest came at a sensitive time, with Israel and Hamas, bitter enemies that have fought three wars and dozens of smaller skirmishes, both having a strong interest in keeping things quiet.Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking his fourth consecutive term in April 9 elections, but is facing a serious challenge from a group of ex-army chiefs who have criticized what they say is his failed Gaza policy. With a lack of alternatives, Netanyahu has been forced at times to rely on Hamas to maintain stability along Israel's volatile southern front.In the final stretch of the campaign, Netanyahu needs to keep the Israel-Gaza frontier quiet, without seeming to make concessions to Hamas. Netanyahu took heavy criticism this week for what was seen as a soft response to renewed rocket fire out of Gaza.
Hamas, meanwhile, faces growing unrest in Gaza as a result of worsening conditions after more than a decade of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade. The two countries imposed the blockade in 2007 after Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel's destruction, seized control of Gaza from the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority.The blockade has helped drive unemployment over 50 percent, led to chronic power outages and made it extremely difficult for Gazans to travel out of the territory.Earlier this month, Hamas violently suppressed several days of public protests, staged under the slogan "We want to live," over the dire conditions.The fence protests, which began exactly a year ago, have been aimed in large part at breaking the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza, but haven't delivered major improvements.The Israeli military estimated 40,000 Palestinians were gathered at the marches on Saturday. As the protest was winding down, organizers vowed to continue the marches and said they would gather again as usual next Friday.