IDF on high alert over Palestinian unity demonstrations

Rallies planned in support of Fatah-Hamas reconciliation; West Bank, Gaza gov'ts say they will not prevent demonstrations.

Palestinians in Ramallah rallying for unity 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
Palestinians in Ramallah rallying for unity 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
The IDF will be on high alert throughout the West Bank on Tuesday amid predictions that thousands of Palestinians will participate in demonstrations against Israel and in support of Fatah-Hamas unity.
Palestinians have been urged to hold mass rallies in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip as part of a campaign aimed at exerting pressure on Fatah and Hamas to end their dispute.
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The campaign, which was first initiated by various youth groups on Facebook, has been endorsed by several Palestinian political factions, which called on their supporters to take to the streets to join the demonstrators. The campaign has been inspired by the current wave of popular uprisings sweeping the Arab world – most of which were organized through Facebook and other online social media groups.
The IDF is concerned that the demonstrations in Ramallah will spread to other parts of the West Bank and could lead to massive disturbances that will be difficult to contain.
The army has boosted forces throughout the West Bank, but believes the protests will be contained within the cities and towns in which they are held.
Last month, The Jerusalem Post reported that the IDF had begun establishing rapid response teams and was locating vantage points throughout the territories that could be used to contain Palestinian demonstrations.
The concern is that in the event of large-scale multiple demonstrations, the IDF will not know how to respond and contain the protests, leading to a high number of casualties. As a result, commanders have been instructed to mentally prepare their soldiers for how to respond in such scenarios.
Palestinian Authority and Hamas security forces have also been placed on high alert in a preemptive move to prevent outbursts of violence. The two parties fear that each one would use the rallies to incite against the other.
The two Palestinian governments in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip said they would not prevent the rallies from taking place, but warned against attempts by political groups to “hijack” the protests.
In recent days, the Hamas government has used force to disperse demonstrators in the Gaza Strip who called for an end to Palestinian divisions. However, Hamas has since reversed its policy and is now allowing “pro-unity” rallies.
On Monday, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated in the Unknown Soldier Square in Gaza City, chanting slogans calling for an end to the Hamas-Fatah dispute.
Ehab Ghissin, spokesman for the Hamas-run Interior Ministry, declared that his government would not stop Tuesday’s rallies. However, he warned that some political parties, which he did not identify, might try to “poison the rallies and divert them from their course.”
Ghissin said Hamas had long favored achieving Palestinian unity because it was a “noble goal that every caring Palestinian wants to achieve.”
Palestinians also demonstrated in Manara Square in the center of Ramallah on Monday as part of the campaign. Dozens of youths announced that they were holding a hunger strike until Hamas and Fatah agreed to end their dispute.
The demonstrators in the Gaza Strip and West Bank hoisted Palestinian flags with the writing: “The people want an end to division.”
Meanwhile, the IDF continued to hunt for the suspected Palestinian attackers who murdered Udi and Ruth Fogel and three of their children on Friday night in their home in Itamar.
The IDF’s focus remained on the village of Awarta where soldiers, according to Palestinian media reports, arrested over a dozen more suspects including two Palestinian security officers, raising the number of detained to close to 300. The IDF and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) did not confirm the reports.
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz spoke about the Itamar killings on Monday during a meeting of the top IDF command and said that he was deeply shaken by what he saw inside the Fogel house.
“I went into the house and could not find a connection between the murderers and what it means to be human,” Gantz said. “I have seen many things in my life but I have never encountered such inhumanity.”
Dozens of masked settlers from Itamar made their way to Awarta on Monday afternoon and threw stones at homes, the Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported.
Avishay Bloch, a 24-year-old resident of Samaria, told The Jerusalem Post that he and a few hundred other marchers walked from the Itamar synagogue to the outskirts of Awarta, where they held signs, including a few in Arabic and one reading “Awarta – we will pursue you for eternity.”
“We marched to Awarta and when we got outside the village we held a rally and people from the Samaria local authority and Itamar gave speeches talking about how we’re there to stay and will build in response to the attack.
“After that we walked to the new neighborhood of Itamar [where the murders took place] and we started putting up tents and working on the new neighborhood to show that in the face of murder and our weak government we are becoming stronger.”
Bloch was dismissive of the report that the settlers had thrown rocks, saying, “I didn’t see anybody throwing rocks. I was there for the entire march and didn’t see even a single person throw rocks or even a single Arab. We didn’t come to fight, we came to show our support for our struggle. I’m not saying that it didn’t happen, that nobody threw rocks, but I didn’t see it at all.”
Ben Hartman contributed to this report.