Israel has informed Hamas it will fire "warning shots" at Palestinians who enter an area west of the Gaza Strip border fence, extending for several hundred meters. Egyptian officials told Hamas of the new procedure, which is expected to raise tensions between the two sides.
Israel's representative in truce talks, Amos Gilad, told Egyptian mediators of the decision to declare the area west of the border a "special security zone" and to prevent Palestinians from entering it. The Egyptians informed Hamas, which objects to the plan.
Several incidents have occurred near the fence since a cease-fire came into effect on June 19. Earlier this week the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported eight cease-fire violations by Israel. Most of these violations apparently consisted of Israeli troops firing at people who approached the fence. OCHA's reports rely mainly on Palestinian accounts.
Israel is interested in maintaining the security zone for fear that Palestinian terror groups will use the truce to plant explosives on the Palestinian side of the fence. This would prepare them if fighting resumes. In the past, explosives aimed at Israel Defense Forces vehicles on the Israeli side have been planted in this area.
Israel also fears that Hamas might build a line of fortifications along the fence as a basis for further attacks, as Hezbollah did in Lebanon between Israel's pullout from South Lebanon in 2000 and the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
However, preventing people from approaching the fence will block Palestinian farmers' access to their lands. Farmers have been unable to reach their fields for years because of the fighting along the border.
The IDF suspects that some of the farmers are sent by terror organizations to plant bombs or observe Israeli troops.
Throughout the second intifada Israel declared areas along the fence as "security zones." Soldiers were instructed to fire warning shots at people approaching the fence, and for certain periods were allowed to shoot even at unarmed people. These instructions met resistance in the army, with senior officers saying civilians were being killed.
The IDF believes that Hamas has recently been taking firmer action to curb other Palestinian factions' attacks against Israel. IDF sources told Haaretz that Hamas' leadership in Gaza apparently wants to maintain the truce and is trying to enforce its authority on the smaller factions.
At the beginning of the week Israel opened the border crossings that had been closed last Thursday after Qassam rockets were fired at the Western Negev.
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