(photo credit: JPost Staff)
The IDF and Israel Police went on high alert Thursday and canceled weekend leave for thousands of soldiers and policemen ahead of the Global March to Jerusalem planned to begin Friday along Israel’s borders.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered the IDF to prepare for a wide range of violent scenarios that could break out along the borders, and military sources said that troops were under orders to use force to prevent infiltrations.
“No one will be marching toward Jerusalem,” one official said.
Preparations are taking place along all of Israel’s fronts. The IDF announced Thursday night that Barak ordered West Bank crossings closed for a 24-hour period.
Large numbers of police and border police forces were deployed in and around Moshav Avivim near the Lebanese border Friday morning ahead expected protests.
On the northern side of the border, the Lebanese Armed Forces and police were also out in force along the border and at the Beaufort castle, where some 4,000 protesters are expected later in the day, Lebanese daily an-Nahar reported. UNIFIL was also said to be conducting patrols and monitoring activity along the northern side of the border.
Protests are expected to break out in several Palestinian cities in the West Bank and at the Kalandiya crossing to Ramallah, north of Jerusalem. Officers from the Civil Administration were in touch this week with their Palestinian counterparts in an effort to contain the protests and prevent them from escalating.
Jerusalem police have raised the alert level in the capital, while Magen David Adom spokesman Zachi Heller said that ambulances and paramedics were also raising their alert level through the weekend, starting early Friday morning.
The Northern and Southern Commands have deployed extra forces along the borders with Lebanon, Syria and the Gaza Strip together with riot gear to prevent border infiltrations.
In June, around 100 Syrians crossed into Israel on Nakba Day.
Friday marks the 36th anniversary of Land Day, when Israeli Arabs in the Galilee and Negev protest government policies they say infringe on their land rights.
Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and along Israel’s other borders traditionally rally in solidarity, but this year organizers are hoping to march to Jerusalem.
The general assessment in the IDF is that the protests will mostly be peaceful but there is concern that isolated acts of violence could quickly escalate and spread to the other protests.
Government officials said Israel was ready “for any eventuality.”
Thousands of police officers will fan out across Jerusalem, with an emphasis on the alleyways of the Old City and crossings into the West Bank including the Rachel checkpoint to Bethlehem, said Jerusalem Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby.
As part of preparations in the capital, police said they would limit the access of Muslim worshipers to the Temple Mount for Friday prayers. Only men over the age of 40 in possession of a blue Israeli identity card and women will be given access to the Temple Mount on Friday in an attempt to limit disturbances.
“It is not clear whether there will be problems,” one diplomatic official said. “The organizers are trying to play this up, and we do not want to play into their hands by giving them more publicity.”
The official said that Israel spoke directly with some of its neighbors – obviously Egypt and Jordan – and relayed the message through third parties to others that Israel expected that its borders would remain quiet.
The official said the march was being organized by fundamentalist Islamic extremists, some of whom were interested in violence, and that Israel was calling on the relevant parties in the Palestinian Authority and in neighboring states to “act in a responsible way.”
“We are not in a panic and this is not a crisis,” the official said. “We just have to be ready.”
Meanwhile, a website by pro-Palestinian activists calling for mass marches to Jerusalem went offline on Thursday.
There was no immediate claim from Israeli hackers of being behind the site’s disappearance.Melanie Lidman, Yaakov Lappin, Ben Hartman and JPost.com staff contributed to this report.