Israeli Army Admits Error in Letting Civilians Return to South

GOC Southern Command: We made a mistake, but security is better now than before Gaza op. Kfar Aza residents: Hamas is calling the shots, not Israel.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The head of the Israel Defense Forces Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Sami Turgeman, met Sunday with angry residents of communities located near the Gaza Strip. The locals had been suffering over the weekend from continued rocket and mortar fire from Gaza, despite having been told by the IDF last week that it was safe to return to their homes.

During the meeting, Turgeman admitted that the defense establishment made the wrong decision. “I know we have made mistakes in some of our announcements,” he said.

Turgeman reportedly told the locals that, along with the possibility that Israel's negotiations with the Palestinians in Cairo will lead to a cessation of the hostilities, there is still a chance that the IDF's Operation Protective Edge will be expanded. However, he also noted that the security situation in the “Gaza envelope” region is much better today than before the operation, because of the destruction of the threat posed by Hamas' tunnels.

Turgeman was expected to pay a visit later to Kibbutz Nahal Oz, where only about 60 of 350 members have gone back home.

Another senior IDF officer, speaking over the weekend about residents' return to locales near the border, said: “It is possible now to be within those areas now just it was possible during Protective Edge to be in Tel Aviv and Be’er Sheva, even though there was firing. This is not a new situation for the residents [of the southern communities]. They have protected rooms, and with proper protection it is possible to live there,” he added.

“It is safer here than it was before the operation. The firing is not the only factor here. These communities have been fired on for years and people did not leave because of it,” the officer said.

Also on Sunday, before yet another 72-hour cease-fire took effect, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch toured kibbutzim located near Gaza. Residents of Kibbutz Kfar Aza were furious that the IDF and other authorities had called on them and others to go back to the kibbutzim.

“Why did they have to tell us to return home? I can't describe the suffering it has caused us,” a resident of Kfar Aza told Aharonovitch. “Why did they have to announce a return to routine so quickly?”

The kibbutz members said that as far as they are concerned, it is Hamas that is in control of the agenda and not Israel, and that situation does not allow routine life to continue.

A solidarity demonstration with the residents of the area bordering on the Gaza Strip is scheduled for Thursday in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv.