by Daniel Siryoti
Tens of thousands of Palestinians expected to take part in Hamas-organized protest march on the Israel-Gaza border on Friday, sparking concerns that violence could spark regional riots
Palestinian protesters near the Israel-Gaza border, last weekPhoto: AFP
Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and Egyptian security officials have been secretly cooperating with the aim of preventing a Hamas-orchestrated march planned for Friday from the Gaza Strip from becoming violent.
Hamas, the terrorist group that rules Gaza, has called for a series of "peaceful protests" beginning March 30, when the Palestinians 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 take part on Friday in a march on the Gaza-Israel border, dubbed the "March of Return." Hamas urged Palestinians in the West Bank to clash with Israeli security forces and settlers in solidarity.
Palestinian protests are expected to gain momentum ahead of Israel's 70th Independence Day in April and are likely to be fueled further by the U.S. Embassy's move to Jerusalem, slated for May.
According to a report on Monday in the Arabic-language London-based Saudi website Elaph, Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority share concerns that Friday's protest will turn violent and spark riots across the entire region.
The PA is said to be concerned that any violence in Gaza will spark riots across the West Bank. Jordan is worried that riots in the West Bank could spill into its territory. Egypt is concerned about riots on its shared border with the Gaza Strip and about the possibility of Palestinian masses breaching the border.
A senior Palestinian source was quoted by Elaph as saying that Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and Egyptian security officials have met several times, most recently in Israel last week, and that further meetings are planned.
Palestinian security forces have been instructed to allow solidarity protests in the West Bank, but have been ordered to prevent protesters from going to Israeli checkpoints and clashing with Israeli forces, a Palestinian source said.
A senior Palestinian official told Israel Hayom that while the diplomatic discord between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has made it hard for them to trust each other, security coordination between the Israeli and Palestinian security forces remains professional.
"The highly volatile situation in the Palestinian sector mandates that we remain constantly vigilant," IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot said Monday.
"We will meet the evolving threats in our strategically dynamic sphere with determination and, if need be, with force to prove our superiority."
Bracing for potential violence, the IDF Southern Command has begun bolstering troop deployments along the border and adding clusters of barbed wire at points where military bulldozers are working on the IDF's underground tunnel barrier, with the aim of preventing protesters from reaching the sites and potentially sabotaging the project.
The IDF also plans to deploy additional heavy machinery along the border, and have snipers at the ready.
The Border Police said that if necessary a new crowd control measure – a drone that can drop tear gas – will be used too.
"The IDF will arrive at Friday's events on the Gaza border in full force. The Israel Police and Border Police will also deploy to the area and we will use any and all means at our disposal to maintain order," a senior defense official said.
The troops have been instructed to exercise maximum restraint so as to minimize the number of Palestinian casualties.
Palestinian sources said Israel has dropped hundreds of flyers across Gaza, warning residents against approaching the border.
Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh said Monday that his forces are coordinating with the military and "are ready for any scenario."
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