by Boaz Bismuth, Yoav Limor and Israel Hayom Staff
"We will not allow security infrastructure to be compromised. If the Palestinians think they can organize a march and cross the fence into our territory, they are wrong," IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot says ahead of Friday's mass march on Gaza border.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi EizenkotPhoto: IDF Spokesperson's Unit
The Israel Defense Forces will not hesitate to use all means at its disposal to prevent a breach of the Israel-Gaza Strip border during the Hamas-orchestrated march planned for Friday, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot told Israel Hayom.
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 in Friday's so-called "March of Return." Hamas urged Palestinians in the West Bank to clash with Israeli security forces and settlers in solidarity.
Bracing for potential violence, the IDF has deployed additional troops to the border. Security forces have been ordered to prevent a breach of the border fence, but they have also been instructed to exercise maximum restraint so as to minimize the number of Palestinian casualties.
"We will not allow security infrastructure to be compromised. If the Palestinians think they can organize a march and cross the fence into our territory, they are wrong," Eizenkot said Tuesday.
"We will exercise a hard hand to prevent protesters from infiltrating into Israel. The responsibility [for what happens] will be on [Hamas leader Ismail] Haniyeh and whoever sent them there."
Eizenkot warned that given the heightened tensions on the ground, the risk of a violent flare-up is greater than before.
The IDF has made all the necessary preparations to deal with the march on the southern border, he said, warning that "negative undercurrents run deep in Gaza," fueled by the failed reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, the dire humanitarian situation, Hamas's failure to govern and the collapse of the coastal enclave's infrastructure.
"There is a great sense of frustration in the Gaza Strip," the chief of staff said. "Our interest is to preserve the existing security reality at least until the end of the year in order to complete countertunnel security infrastructure."
The expected cost of construction is over 3 billion shekels ($860 million).
Defense officials said Tuesday that the IDF is preparing for several extreme-case scenarios, including protesters or Hamas operatives using the march to fire at Israeli troops and potential rocket fire by the terrorist groups in the enclave; attempts to trigger explosives on the border or carry out a terrorist attack; and the masses potentially rushing the border and infiltrating Israel, similar to a 2011 incident in which Syrian demonstrators rushed the northern border, leaving the military no choice but to open fire, killing four protesters.
The military has set up several security perimeters near the border: The first, closest to the fence, will be manned by Infantry, Armored Corps and Combat Intelligence troops, alongside special forces, snipers and sappers. The troops on the ground will be backed by aerial assistance to better monitor protesters' movement along the fence and alert the troops in the event of any attempt to target IDF posts or infiltrate border-adjacent communities.
The second perimeter will include Israel Police and Border Police forces, who will tackle potentially blocked roads and prevent onlookers from reaching the area. Police forces will also create a secondary buffer in case Palestinian protesters are able to breach the border.
The third perimeter will see increased police presence in southern cities and town to maintain public order and thwart any potential attack.
Military officials expressed concern that should the march result in a large number of Palestinian casualties, Hamas would use it to incite violence across Judea and Samaria.
Boaz Bismuth, Yoav Limor and Israel Hayom Staff
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