by Nikki Guttman, Daniel Siryoti, News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff
Hamas says it wants to "frighten Israelis" with images of massive crowds gathering near border, urges West Bank Palestinians to clash with IDF
The Israel Defense Forces on Thursday began reinforcing the Israel-Gaza border area in an effort to prevent a planned mass march from becoming violent and breaching the border fence.
Hamas, the terrorist group that rules Gaza, has called for a series of "peaceful protests" beginning March 30, when the Palestinian mark Land Day in commemoration of a 1976 incident in which Israeli forces killed six unarmed Arab citizens and wounded about a hundred amid violent riots.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians are expected to participate in the march. Hamas urged Palestinians in the West Bank to clash with Israeli security forces and settlers to keep the conflict "raging."
The protests are expected to gain momentum ahead of Israel's 70th Independence Day in mid-April, and they are likely to be fueled further by the U.S. Embassy's move to Jerusalem, slated for May.
"We want to frighten the Israelis with the images of massive crowds of people who peaceably gather and sit close to the border. We are working to bring out more than 100,000 people for the march," Hamas spokesman Ahmed Abu Retaima said.
The terrorist group has reportedly allotted some $10 million for its protests.
Bracing for potential violence, the IDF Southern Command has bolstered deployment along the border, adding clusters of coiled barbed wire to various points of the fence, where military bulldozers are working on the IDF's underground tunnel barrier, to prevent protests from reaching it and potentially sabotaging the project.
The military further plans to deploy additional heavy machinery along the border, as well as have snipers at the ready.
The troops have been instructed to exercise maximum restraint so as to minimize the number of Palestinian casualties.
Border Police Deputy Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai told the Hadashot evening news that if need be, a new crowd control measure will be deployed as well – a drone that can drop tear gas.
"Beyond the fact that this equipment neutralizes any danger to the troops, it enables us to reach places that until now we couldn't get to," Shabtai, who pioneered the drone's development, said.
The drone is designed to transport six canisters of tear gas at a time. It can drop them individually, in clusters, or all at once. Security forces are working to increase the drone's payload to 12 canisters, the report said.
The Hamas march "is clearly an attempt to break through the fences, and they are ready to tolerate losses," journalist Ehud Yaari, a senior Hadashot analyst and an international fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the Bloomberg news agency.
Habayit Hayehudi leader Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Thursday that "the key here is to prevent them [Palestinian protesters] from crossing the fence, at any cost, while on the other hand avoid any unnecessary casualties, so as not to play into their hands."
Nikki Guttman, Daniel Siryoti, News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff
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