Israeli Troops Leave Some Communities Near Gaza, Irking Residents

Mayors call for soldiers to remain until a better barrier is put up at the border to thwart Hamas.

Shirly Seidler
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A drawing left by a soldier withdrawn from Kibbutz Nirim, January 4, 2015.
A drawing left by a soldier withdrawn from Kibbutz Nirim, January 4, 2015.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Shirly Seidler

Troops guarding communities near Gaza not right next to the fence packed up and left Sunday, to the consternation of residents who fear incursions by Hamas, as happened during the war over the summer.

Buses arrived to pick the soldiers up from the Eshkol, Sha’ar Hanegev and Sdot Negev regions. Troops will continue guarding kibbutzim Nahal Oz, Netiv Ha’asara and Kerem Shalom.

The Israel Defense Forces had announced the move last Monday.

Haim Yellin, the chairman of the Eshkol regional council, said the decision to remove the soldiers was “disconnected from reality” and “badly impaired the residents’ feeling of security.”

“It’s inconceivable that the troops providing security are being taken out before a new barrier is put up along the border,” he said.

Before the Gaza war, there was no full-time military presence at the communities, which requested an IDF presence as needed. In some places, residents did guard duty.

On Friday, the residents of Kibbutz Nirim demonstrated against the army’s decision, marching from the kibbutz to a tunnel that had been discovered a few hundred meters from people’s homes. But the protesters were stopped before they reached their goal.

During the war, Hamas squads entered Israel through tunnels to carry out attacks. Fighters were accompanied by squads equipped with anesthetics, syringes and handcuffs in order to capture Israelis.

On Friday, the kibbutzniks warned about a tunnel infiltration or the results of a rocket attack without troops stationed nearby.

Mayor Yellin, like his Sha’ar Hanegev counterpart Alon Schuster, called for the construction of a fence along Gaza to prevent incursions, and for special technology to detect tunnel activity.

The commander of the Gaza Division, Brig. Gen. Itay Virov, has met with residents of Kibbutz Nahal Oz, where troops will remain stationed.

“At the end of the day, Hamas stayed where it was, in a situation of utter chaos,” Virov told the Ynet news site. “A state of collapse inside the Gaza Strip could bring us to places worse and more complicated than before the war.”

Mentioning the Gaza City neighborhood of Shujaiyeh, he expounded on Gaza and deterrence.

“We can go to the fence and pick up a pair of midrange binoculars, look toward Shujaiyeh and understand that it’s pretentious, even quite arrogant, to think we can deter somebody from Shujaiyeh. What does someone from Shujaiyeh have to lose? What did he have to lose even before the war?” Virov said.

“Gaza is a huge tragedy. It’s locked up from every direction .... It has nothing. So how could they possibly have it any worse? ... This isn’t a war of deterrence. For inhabitants of Gaza, there are no real alternatives but war.”

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