Tensions mount ahead of planned Hamas march into Israel

Hours ahead of the planned Hamas march on Israel, Defense Minister Liberman warns, “Anyone who approaches the [border] fence is putting their life in danger.” 

By: World Israel News Staff
AP contributed to this report.

A Palestinian farmer was killed by an Israeli tank shell in the Gaza Strip early Friday, hours before Gazans were to stage mass sit-ins, organized by the Hamas terror group, along the border with Israel, a health official and a witness said. Another Palestinian man was reportedly wounded.

Ahead of the protests, Israel’s military said it has doubled its standard troop level along the border, deploying snipers, special forces and paramilitary border police units, which specialize in riot control.

Hamas has claimed the activities would be peaceful and the chief Israeli military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, said Israel wants to avoid violence.

However, the IDF is preparing for a scenario in which tens of thousands of Gazans will march to Israel’s border fence with Gaza, possibly attempting to take it down and march into Israel.

Hamas: ‘We want to frighten the Israelis’

“We want to frighten the Israelis with the images of massive crowds of people who peaceably gather and sit close to the border,” Hamas spokesman Ahmed Abu Retaima told Bloomberg last week. “We are working to bring out more than 100,000 people for the march.”

The Hamas march is “clearly an attempt to break through the fences, and they are ready to tolerate losses,” Ehud Yaari, an international fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Bloomberg.

The IDF will attempt to minimize casualties by deploying non-lethal crowd dispersal ordinance, including drones that will drop tear gas canisters on the crowds.

Israel fears a situation in which dozens of Palestinians will cross the border and enter Israeli territory, a situation which could result in many civilian casualties.

In the Friday morning incident, the Israeli military said, troops directed tank fire toward two suspects who approached the fence along the southern Gaza Strip and acted suspiciously.

Palestinians set up ‘tent cities’

For the planned protest, Palestinians have set up “tent cities” along the border. The activities are to culminate on May 15, the 70th anniversary of Israel’s creation, with a march through the border fence.

IDF Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Major General Yoav Mordechai says the IDF is taking steps to avoid confrontation during the Hamas-planned marches along the border fence. Mordechai warned that the IDF would respond harshly to provocations.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman tweeted in Arabic Friday morning to the residents of Gaza: “Hamas leadership is playing with your lives. Get on with your lives and do not participate in the provocation.”

Tensions on the border with Gaza have been running high in recent weeks, with terror-related incidents and infiltration attempts transpiring almost on a daily basis.