Israel braces for return of violent Gaza protests

Hamas invites Gazans to commemorate militants killed in IDF commando raid.

A demonstrator hurls back a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops during clashes at a Gaza border protest , April 27, 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)
A demonstrator hurls back a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops during clashes at a Gaza border protest , April 27, 2018
Israel is bracing for the possible return of violent border protests on Friday, just days after the latest escalation with Gaza raised fears of yet another war.
The IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Maj.-Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon warned Gazans on Thursday through an Arabic-language video posted to his Facebook page that Israel will respond severely to those who take part in the violent border protests.
According to Rokon, Israel is “well aware that these actions are not spontaneous” and that the protests are “masterminded, managed and led” by Hamas.
Rokon warned that the IDF “will not show restraint” against anyone who approaches within 100 meters of the security fence, anyone who tries or succeeds to damage it, anyone who tries to infiltrate into Israel, anyone who throws improvised explosive devices or Molotov cocktails toward troops, or anyone who launches explosive balloons into southern Israel.
Lt.-Col. (res.) Dr. Mordechai Kedar, an expert on Islamist groups at Bar-Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that while Hamas is “preoccupied by Liberman’s resignation which is a major success for them... you cannot overrule the possibility that Gazans will come to the fence.”
Israel has demanded an end to the weekly confrontations, as well as the frequent launches of incendiary balloons into Israeli territory. Hamas, on the other hand, has repeatedly stated that the protests would continue until Israel lifts the blockade on the Gaza Strip.
While there have been no indications on social media about planned protests, it is likely that thousands of Palestinians will gather at the Gaza security fence.
“If the protests are too small, then Israel might think they won by canceling the demonstrations,” Kedar said. “They [Hamas] don’t want to give Israel that achievement.”
According to Kedar, an invitation by Hamas to come to the area of the Ismail Abu Shanab mosque – where the botched IDF commando raid took place to commemorate the terrorists killed by Israel – might see a large protest by Gazans near the fence afterwards.
“This event in Khan Yunis might become a demonstration against Israel,” he said, adding that the mosque “is not so far from the Israeli border, a 15 minute walk-after the event they can all walk to the fence.”
Hamas “might be willing to cause a clash between Israel and demonstrators in order to say that ‘we keep the peace while Israel keeps shooting at us.’” Kedar said, warning that Hamas wants to “check Israeli patience” and “drag Israel into a trap.”
The violent riots along the Gaza security fence, which began in March, have led to some 221 Palestinians being killed, according to Palestinian Health Ministry figures. It has also led to fears of another military operation against Hamas to restore the quiet seen in the four years since the end of Operation Protective Edge.
Before the latest outbreak of violence, Israel and Hamas were reportedly close to signing a long-term ceasefire agreement – and Israel allowed the transfer of $15 million in cash to Hamas to pay the salaries of civil servants. The money, which was paid for by Qatar and the first installment out of $90 million, was transferred in three suitcases in a heavily guarded vehicle in the blockaded coastal enclave.
According to Arabic media reports, the ceasefire would have also included a partial lifting of restrictions on the movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza, as well as a sea passage between Cyprus and the Gaza Strip, which would be monitored by international forces under Israeli security supervision.
But over the course of 25 hours beginning on Monday, close to 500 mortars and rockets were launched into southern Israel from the Hamas-run enclave. The violence ended after a ceasefire was signed that had been mediated by Egypt, the United Nations, Norway and Switzerland.
Meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Thursday, President Reuven Rivlin said that the “unending” rocket fire against Israeli civilians is unacceptable and that Israel would not “stand by” in the face of Hamas attacks.
“Hamas again and again escalates the situation by cynically exploiting the people of Gaza,” he said, adding that “Israel does not want escalation or to hurt innocent civilians, but will not stand by while Hamas undermines stability and our civilians are harmed.”