IDF braces for violent protests on Gaza border

Like every Friday for over a year, thousands of Palestinians are expected to protest along the Gaza border fence, burning tires and throwing grenades and improvised explosive devices at troops.

Palestinians protest next to the border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip, as it is seen from its Israeli side March 30, 2019 (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
Palestinians protest next to the border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip, as it is seen from its Israeli side March 30, 2019
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
The IDF is gearing up for violent protests along the Gaza Strip border on Friday, one day after Israel struck Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip following the launching of a rocket towards border communities.
Rocket sirens wailed and explosions were heard in Sderot on Thursday night and in the other areas around the Gaza border, but no injuries were reported.
Like every Friday since March 2018, thousands of Gazans are expected to protest and riot along the border fence, burning tires, hurling stones and marbles, and throwing grenades and improvised explosive devices (some military grade) towards troops. 
The Great March of Return border protests have seen more than 500,000 people violently demonstrating along the security fence demanding an end to the 12-year long blockade. Every Friday the rioters, ranging between several thousand to 45,000, assemble at various points along the border. 
The last few Fridays have been relatively calm with a significant decrease in the number of protesters clashing with troops along the fence. But tensions have risen once again following the launching of incendiary and explosive balloons towards Israeli territory, causing the IDF to impose a rare full closure of the Gaza Strip fishing zone. That in turn led to terrorist groups in the Strip to fire a rocket towards southern communities.
At least eight fires raged across southern Israel on Wednesday, while two explosive balloons exploded over greenhouses in the area.
The rocket, which was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, triggered sirens in Kibbutz Nirim in the Eshkol regional council at around 12.15 a.m.
Early Thursday morning, the IDF said fighter jets “attacked an underground terror infrastructure on a military compound belonging to the Hamas terror group in the southern Gaza Strip. The attack was carried out in response to the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip earlier in the night.”
According to Palestinian media reports, the strike targeted sites in the neighborhood of al-Rayyan east of Rafah and al-Zaytoun in Gaza City.

“The IDF will continue to act against any attempt to harm Israeli civilians and considers the terrorist organization Hamas responsible for everything that is happening in and out of the Gaza Strip,” the IDF statement added.
In recent weeks, the IDF has responded to incendiary balloons by reducing the fishing zone off of the Gaza coast rather than striking the squads which launch them. Last week, one day after Israel expanded the fishing zone to 15 nautical miles, the IDF reduced it back to 10 miles after four incendiary balloons caused fires in Gaza periphery communities.
Last week, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi met with the heads of the Gaza communities and told them that the relative calm along the border has been proving effective, with a decrease in incendiary aerial balloons launched towards southern Israel and a decrease in violent Great March of Return riots along the fence.
“The reduction in the number of balloons and the decrease in the number of violent incidents on the fence is not coincidental,” Kochavi was quoted by Mako as saying, adding that while the IDF “prefers to give this arrangement a chance... We cannot let the balloon terror continue.”
The rocket fire on Thursday morning was the first such attack in over a month since a ceasefire agreement was reached between Israel and terrorist groups in the Strip after a deadly round of violence saw close to 700 rockets fired killing four Israelis. The IDF’s retaliatory strikes killed 25 Palestinians.
According to reports, the ceasefire agreement includes, among others, that Hamas stop the violence along the border fence, maintain a 300-meter buffer between protesters and the fence, and end to the launching of incendiary and explosive balloons towards Israeli communities.
In return, Israel will: reopen the fishing zone and border crossings; allow the transfer of Qatari money; enable United Nations cash-for-work programs; and open negotiations on healthcare, electricity, and other issues.
On Thursday, the Gaza District Coordination and Liaison Administration said it foiled the smuggling of mail packages into the Hamas-run enclave containing military equipment that might have been used for terrorist purposes.
According to a statement, officers at the Erez Crossing confiscated 167 out of 220 mail packages which had been ordered online from AliExpress and Amazon.
Among the products seized were dual-use military items including hovering drones and spare parts, cameras, weapons equipment, military face masks, lasers, airbag mechanisms, communication equipment, electronic components, frequency disruptors and gun sites.
The officers were assisted by a communications officer from the Coordination and Liaison Administration, and staff from the Crossings Authority of the Ministry of Defense, and Israel Post.
Authorities regularly intercept illicit dual-use goods, such as cameras, heading to Hamas. Such imports require a special permit.