IDF on High Alert as Palestinians Prepare for Naksa Day

Palestinians in Lebanon cancel march to border following Hezbollah pressure; IDF chief orders Northern Command to augment means of crowd control intended to avoid casualties if border breached; IDF sources say West Bank incidences unlikely.

The Israel Defense Forces Northern Command is on high alert this morning ahead of a possible attempt by thousands of Palestinian refugees from the Damascus area to storm the border of the Golan Heights as a way of marking Naksa Day, the anniversary of the beginning of the Six-Day War.

The IDF Central Command and Southern Command also declared a high alert in case of an outbreak in violence near the West Bank and the Gaza Strip respectively, although the northern border seems the most likely area for clashes.

Lebanon Nakba Day protest - Reuters - 15.5.2011

The two most probable flash points are the border crossing at Quneitra and the foot of what is known as "The Hill of Shouting," opposite the Golan Heights town of Majdal Shams. The latter location is the same spot where some 180 refugees crossed the border three weeks ago, at least four of whom were killed by IDF fire.

The possibility that refugees will seek to storm the border from the direction of Maroun al-Rass in Lebanon, opposite Moshav Avivim, is considered less likely following the Lebanese army's announcement that the entire area opposite the border with Israel is a closed military zone.

Following the announcement, the organizers of the Naksa Day events in Lebanon canceled the marches they had planned for today toward the border with Israel. Instead, the various Palestinian organizations will hold rallies in refugee camps throughout Lebanon.

Pressure from Hezbollah, which does not want escalation with Israel, apparently also played a part in the cancelation of marches, as did pressure on the Lebanese army by United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.

Sources in the IDF Central Command said significant incidents in the West Bank are unlikely, given ongoing coordination with Palestinian security forces, who three weeks ago on Nakba Day prevented direct clashes between protesters and the IDF. Sporadic clashes with the IDF could occur, but rallies in the West Bank are not expected to be extensive.

Troops have been beefed up along the border with the West Bank, but not to the extent they were three weeks ago for Nakba Day. The IDF is making do along the Gaza Strip border fence with observation and intelligence and has not increased troops.

IDF Commander in Chief Benny Gantz has ordered the Northern Command to augment sub-lethal means for crowd control in an attempt to keep the number of casualties down in the event that the border is breached. However, sources in the Northern Command said over the weekend that the policy for dealing with civilians attempting to cross the border is to fire warning shots in the air, and, if that does not stop them, to fire at their legs.

The border fence at Majdal Shams has been repaired and augmented with additional concertina wire. The IDF is also expected to declare the area a closed military zone in order to prevent Israeli Arabs from arriving and demonstrating their support for refugees who attempt to storm the border.

However, Haaretz has learned that after the marches were canceled in Lebanon, and with plans uncertain on the Syrian side, Israeli-Arab political movements also canceled plans to rally at the border.

Nevertheless, yesterday, police stopped a bus with activists from the Arab Democratic Party, led by MK Talab al-Sana (United Arab List-Ta'al ) on its way up to the Golan Heights.

Hadash said it saw the main event marking Naksa Day as yesterday's march in Tel Aviv calling for recognition of a Palestinian state along 1967 borders.

As opposed to Land Day or the October 2000 clashes - which mark the loss of Arab lands in the Galilee and the death of 13 Arabs in 2000, respectively - the Naksa, an Arabic word meaning "setback" and referring to the Arab defeat in the Six-Day War, has never been significantly marked by Israeli Arabs.