The Israeli military said on Tuesday it has beefed up forces near the Gaza Strip ahead of planned border demonstrations led by Hamas on Wednesday.
Officers and soldiers were instructed to respond "more aggressively" to any attempts to breach the border fence or attack Israeli soldiers, following last week's shooting of Border Police officer Bar’el Hadaria Shmueli, 21, who was hit through a slit in the border fence, and remains in critical condition.
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More than 40 Palestinians were wounded in the clashes, including a 13-year-old boy, who is also in critical condition.
The military said it has prepared for various scenarios, including a flare-up of violence, only three months after a round of fighting between Israel and Hamas.
Also on Tuesday, Al Arabiya network reported, citing unnamed sources, Hamas has agreed to stop launching incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip following talks with Egyptian intelligence officials.
Such balloons started three fires near the Gaza border in southern Israel on Sunday, the Israeli fire and rescue service reported. In response, Israeli fighter jets struck Hamas targets in the Strip on Monday night, including a weapons manufacturing site in Khan Younis, Hamas tunnel shafts in Jabalya and a rocket launching site adjacent to a school in Shujaiyeh, the military said.
Hamas resumed the launch of bomb balloons this summer to exert pressure on Israel and Egypt to advance negotiations on allowing construction materials into the Strip after May's hostilities with Israel, Lebanon's Al Akhbar daily reported earlier this month, citing Hamas sources. These balloons have caused multiple fires across Israeli communities on the border, and the Israeli military has retaliated with strikes on Hamas targets.
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On Monday, Egyptian security sources said that Cairo will close the Rafah crossing on its border with Gaza until further notice. According to two Egyptian security sources, the closure was made for security reasons, after clashes broke out during Palestinian protests on the Gaza-Israel border on Saturday.
Rafah is the sole crossing between Egypt and Gaza, where an Israeli-led blockade has placed severe restrictions on the movement of goods and people for years.
Hamas has recently threatened to resume the launching of incendiary balloons after the militant organization failed to reach an agreement with Israel on the transfer of Qatari funds and goods into Gaza. An agreement was reached last week, according to which funds will be transferred to a UN bank account in New York, and from there to banks in Ramallah and to branches in Gaza, rather than direct cash transfers.
Despite this development, the border protests resumed, as did the launch of explosive balloons. Israeli defense officials believe that Hamas is ready for another round of fighting with Israel following the clashes. The assessment is that Hamas has an array of rockets that will suffice for another round of fighting, since its rocket caches weren’t badly hit during the last round in May.