The defense establishment believes that the army will succeed in preventing Gazans from crossing the border into Israel during the March of Return scheduled for Friday, even if that means Palestinian deaths.
Defense officials said Gaza residents do not seem eager to take part in the event, but Hamas is making efforts to bring as many of them as possible to the fence on Friday. As a result, the troops may have to deal with a particularly large demonstration.
Over the last few days the Israel Defense Forces has warned that it would open fire on anyone who tries to breach the border fence and enter Israel.
The IDF has brought a brigade, snipers and soldiers from various courses, to help local troops deal with Friday’s demonstration. The snipers have been instructed to shoot demonstrators who breach the fence.
In a ceremony marking a change of Military Intelligence commanders on Wednesday, Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot said that the situation in Gaza is “highly explosive” and “threatens to damage the sensitive life fabric and safety of the region’s residents.”
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Eizenkot visited the Gaza division several times this week to supervise the preparations. On Wednesday he and Shin Bet chief Argaman presented to the cabinet ministers preparations and intelligence evaluations ahead of the events, noting that stopping the Palestinians from crossing the fence and entering Israel was the troops’ main task.
They also presented a scenario in which a large crowd comes to the tent compound on the other side of the fence. The assessment is that the army will manage to handle the event, though possibly only at the cost of Palestinian fatalities.
On Wednesday, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Major General Yoav Mordechai, warned the Palestinian bus companies slated to carry demonstrators to the fence that their entry permits would be revoked.
“We contacted more than 20 bus companies in Gaza, who were paid by Hamas to take people to violent demonstrations and warned that we’ll take personal steps against their owners,” he said.
Preparations for Friday’s event come in the wake of growing tension along the Gaza border and several attempts — some successful — to cross it.
On Wednesday, the army struck two Hamas observation posts in the northern Gaza Strip after two Palestinians set a fire near the border fence. The suspects did not cross into Israel.
Also Wednesday, a Palestinian from Gaza was arrested on the Zikim beach in Israel near the Gaza border and taken in for questioning. He was unarmed.
On Tuesday, three Palestinians, armed with grenades and knives, were found and arrested after infiltrating 20 kilometers into Israeli territory. On Saturday, Israel struck Hamas targets after four Palestinians carrying bottles filled with flammable material approached the fence on foot and managed to cross the border into Israel near Kibbutz Kissufim.
The army also said it will impose a closure on the West Bank and Gaza crossings for the duration of the Passover holiday. The closure will begin Thursday at midnight and be lifted on Saturday, April 7. The army added that passage will be allowed for humanitarian and medical cases, pending approval by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.