The IDF has released a document detailing the year-long Great March of Return protests along the Gaza border, including new details that have not been previously released.
The Great March of Return protests began on March 30th and has seen thousands of Gazans violently demonstrating along the security fence with Israel, demanding an end to the 12-year long blockade.
According to the military, over a half million people have attended the protests since they began, with the number of Palestinians congregating at points along the border between several thousand to 45,000 each day. The rioters are provided with electricity, free wireless Internet and network connections, as well as food and drink by Hamas.
During the violent protests, Gazans have been burning tires and hurling stones and marbles as well as throwing of grenades and improvised explosive devices (including military-grade explosives) toward IDF troops. Ball bearings and other projectiles have also been hurled by protesters, often by using high-velocity slingshots.
In addition, mines and booby-trapped explosive devices with delayed detonation devices are also laid along the fence during the riots under the cover of smoke and crowds and “pose a direct threat to the lives and safety of IDF forces operating in the border area,” the military said.
According to the military, “drones used by the IDF to deliver tear gas have been felled by using electronic jamming as well as by shooting them down from the sky.”
Gazans have also launched thousands of aerial incendiary devices into southern Israel, leading to 2,000 separate fires resulting in over 35,000 dunams (approximately 8,500 acres) of land being burnt.
“This has included over 13,000 dunams (approximately 3,200 acres) of nature reserves, and over 11,000 dunams (approximately 2,700 acres) of forestry,” the document said.
The IDF also accused Hamas of “allocating explosive materials and other military means” and distributing them to protesters to sabotage security infrastructure. Gazans have also been cutting through the fence, infiltrating into southern Israel.
“Damage to the technology and physical elements of this infrastructure leaves entire sectors of the fence inoperable,” the military said, adding that “damage to engineering equipment in the area has resulted in delays in completing the underground obstacle and technology designed to detect cross-border tunnels.”
Israel has completed some 27 of 65 kilometers of the country’s new underground barrier that is designed to prevent tunnels from crossing into Israeli territory from Gaza. The barrier will be completed by an above-ground six meter high smart fence.
According to the IDF, there was a “significant spike” in individual infiltration and border attacks prior to the beginning of the Great March of Return, “in order to test the IDF’s response times and methods.” Hamas also conducted large-scale military exercises, including training infiltration and abduction scenarios “that could be executed in the event of a breach in the security infrastructure.”
Approximately 70,000 Israelis reside in southern Israel next to the Gaza Strip. According to the military, the primary threat posed along the border is the threat of abductions and killings of Israeli civilians as well as harm to residential and commercial infrastructure.
“Attacks against individuals, lynches and abductions, as well as the overrunning of buildings and residential areas are real possibilities by persons incited to violence and with the means to carry it out. The same applies for damage to national and commercial infrastructure,” the report said, adding that “in addition, due to their vicinity to the Gaza border and exposure to the line of fire, these communities are under constant threat of sniper fire, anti-tank fire and other ground-to-ground missiles [that are] aimed towards them.”
According to the military 1,300 rockets and missiles have been fired from the Strip since March 30, 2018, with most being launched on Friday or Saturday “immediately after mass violent riots.”
In November, Hamas fired a Kornet anti-tank missile at a bus at the Black Arrow site
, which only moments earlier had been filled with dozens of soldiers. Over that weekend, close to 500 projectiles were fired towards southern Israel
, killing one Palestinian man and injuring dozens.
In response to the protests, the IDF has “substantially” increased its forces deployed on the Gaza border and all troops have undergone “specially developed training designed to replicate the expected elements of the Gaza border events.” Israel has also stationed counter-terrorism forces in communities along the Gaza border in order to rapidly respond to any infiltration or attacks.
The IDF has also constructed sand berms to provide defenses for IDF forces along the border, has dug long trenches and laid barbed wire behind these berms in an attempt to delay persons from reaching Israeli civilian communities.
Over the past year, the timing and frequency of the clashes has changed, with Hamas increasing their frequency with large-scale riots that occur during the week as well as at night. The night-time riots include different tactics and focus more on psychological warfare against civilians in nearby communities, by using loud explosives and megaphones to project death threats in Hebrew.
“As of today, it is uncertain when Hamas will cease to organize and lead violent riots and attacks on the border,” the IDF document stated, adding that “Despite the ongoing and serious attacks against Israel, Israel has refrained from responding with a large scale military operation. Nevertheless, the possibility of large scale hostilities is very real.”
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