(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman threatened a tough Israeli response if Palestinians attack the border with the Gaza Strip on Friday during the much-anticipated Land Day protests.
“There are hundreds of snipers. Whoever attacks Israel’s sovereignty will be attacked,” Liberman told Ynet, adding that “we are well prepared, and I am confident that we will enable the people of Israel to celebrate Passover quietly.”
Despite this increase in security, several Gazans have been able to infiltrate Israel in recent weeks, including another incident on Thursday when two armed men were caught after crossing from the northern Gaza Strip.
Two other serious breaches occurred over the past week, with three armed Palestinians arrested on Tuesday 200 meters from the entrance to Tze’elim Army Base, after walking some 20 kilometers from Gaza.
Three armed Palestinians who inflitrated from Gaza lurking around Kibbutz Ze'elim (Eshkol Regional Council)
The string of infiltrations has led to criticism from residents of the South as well as from politicians who have said the “failures” have broken the trust between the military and residents.
Liberman played down the infiltrations, telling Ynet that the headlines are “sheer madness.”
“Can you totally prevent every mishap? No. Must you turn it into a tragedy? Also no,” he said, emphasizing that “there is no need to speak in terms of mass hysteria.”
The IDF has deployed additional battalions and some 100 snipers from elite units in order to prevent a mass infiltration on Friday. Liberman said that Israel has prepared itself for “every scenario” that could arise.
“The directive is not to allow any harm to Israeli sovereignty, and we will make this clear during the day tomorrow. We will try to keep them in the buffer strip and will not let them approach the fence,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, resting at home because of an upper respiratory tract viral infection that caused a high fever and bad cough earlier this week, held telephone consultations on Thursday with top security officials to stay abreast of preparedness for the scheduled Land Day march.
Among those he spoke with were Liberman, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Nadav Argaman and National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat.
A spokeswoman for Netanyahu said he was feeling better, but that his doctor recommended a number of days of additional rest.
Troops have been instructed to prepare not only for a mass convergence on the border fence, but for scenarios where Hamas uses violent disturbances as a distraction to attack troops or to infiltrate Israel to attack nearby communities.
Thousands of Gazans have been demonstrating every Friday following the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by US President Donald Trump in December. A number of demonstrators have been killed and hundreds more have been wounded.
These demonstrations have been getting more violent in recent weeks, with protesters bringing firearms and grenades to use against IDF troops on the other side of the fence.
In a phone call with the Israel Project on Thursday, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, the former director of policy and political-military affairs in the Defense Ministry, said that while Hamas wants confrontation with Israel, the IDF does not want to kill innocent civilians.
“We are determined not to allow any entrance to Israel by Gazans,” Gilad said, adding that this will be done “with minimum force and fire and with maximum determination and wisdom. We don’t want to kill anyone but we don’t want to let them enter Israel and Israeli communities.”
According to Liberman, Hamas has understood that not only is it losing public support, but it could lose control of the Strip altogether. Therefore, the terrorist group is trying to channel the anger of the residents against Israel.
Liberman reiterated that Israel has no intention to retake control of the coastal enclave.
“We expect the Gazans to remove Hamas from power, but we do not intend to do their job for them,” he said. “If they want to take care of the future of their children, if they want jobs, if they want to fly freely around the world, they have to change the government.”
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