Israeli Forces to Deploy More Than 100 Snipers Along Gaza Border Ahead of Mass Protests

Despite high alert, assessments predict only small groups might attempt to approach the fence

Tents pitched by Palestinians are seen on the Gaza border with Israel (background), east of Jabalia, on March 29, 2018
MAHMUD HAMS/AFP

Bulldozers were at work until Thursday evening to raise high mounds of earth near points where Palestinian protesters are expected to approach Friday during a march to the border fence organized by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, as the army completed its preparations for the protest. The army knows of a number of points to which a few tens of thousands of demonstrators will head, but it is believed that the largest number will approach the fence opposite the central Gaza Strip.

According to military sources, Hamas’ calls on protesters not to try to cross the fence or use violence is an attempt to maintain control, which it fears losing at a key moment.

More than 100 snipers are backing up IDF forces along the border. Over the last few months, the approval of a brigade commander was required to open fire in a situation where there was no threat of life in protests along the border fence. But on Friday, orders to open fire can come from lower ranking officers. However, there has been no change in the rules of engagement themselves.

The army will allow protesters to congregate near tents that have been set up in the Gaza Strip, but has set limits to how close to the fence it will allow protesters to come before responding. In case of a massive approach towards the fence, it is possible Israeli soldiers will cross over to contain it. According to assessments, only small groups might attempt to reach the fence.

Military sources said Wednesday that there were several instances recently where Palestinians touched the fence in attempt to enter Israel.  In most cases no crosses were made. These were likely attempts by Hamas to test the soldiers' responses and the boundaries of the military, according to the IDF. Regarding the incident Tuesday, in which three Palestinians made it as far as Tse'elim army base, IDF said this has increased Hamas' motivation to try and recreate the achievement.

IDF make the distinction between incidents such as Tuesday's infiltration and ones where Palestinians are caught near the fence or attempting to climb it. The latter usually stem from the Palestinians' wish to be arrested or seek employment in Israel. Most of these incidents conclude with the soldiers allowing the Palestinians to climb down and then arresting them.