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.