By ANNA AHRONHEIM – Jerusalem Post – 06/13/2019
The IDF is gearing up for violent protests along the Gaza border on Friday a day after Israel struck Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip following the launching of a rocket towards Israeli border communities.
Like every Friday for over a year, thousands of Palestinians are expected to protest along the Gaza border fence, burning tires and hurling stones and marbles as well as other types of violence which include the throwing of grenades and improvised explosive devices (including military-grade explosives) towards troops.
The Great Return March border protests began on March 30th and have seen over half a million people violently demonstrating along the security fence demanding an end to the 12-year long blockade, congregating at points along the border range between several thousand to 45,000 every Friday.
The last few Fridays have been relatively calm with a significant decrease of protesters clashing with troops along the fence. But tensions have risen once again following the launching of incendiary and explosive balloons towards Israeli territory, causing the IDF to impose a rare full closure of the Gaza Strip fishing zone which in turn led to terror groups in the Strip firing a rocket towards southern communities.
At least eight fires raged across southern Israel on Wednesday and two other explosive balloons exploded over greenhouses in the area.
The rocket, which was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, triggered sirens in the community of Nirim in the Eshkol regional council at around 12.15AM.
Early Thursday morning the IDF said fighter jets “attacked an underground terror infrastructure on a military compound belonging to the Hamas terror group in the southern Gaza Strip. The attack was carried out in response to the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip earlier in the night.”
According to Palestinian media reports the strike targeted sites in the al-Rayyan neighborhood east of Rafah and another on in the al-Zaytoun neighborhood of Gaza City.
“The IDF will continue to act against any attempt to harm Israeli civilians and considers the terrorist organization Hamas responsible for everything that is happening in and out of the Gaza Strip,” the IDF statement added.
In recent weeks the IDF has responded by incendiary balloons by reducing the fishing zone off of the Gaza coast instead of by striking those who launch them. Last week Israel reduced the fishing zone off the Gaza from 15 nautical miles back to 10 miles after four incendiary balloons caused fires in southern Israel, a day after it had expanded it to 15 miles.
Last week IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi met with the heads of the Gaza communities and told them that the relative calm along the border has been proving effective, with a decrease in incendiary aerial balloons launched towards southern Israel and a decrease in violent Great Return March riots along the fence.
“The reduction in the number of balloons and the decrease in the number of violent incidents on the fence is not coincidental,” Kochavi was quoted by Mako as saying, adding that while the IDF “prefers to give this arrangement a chance…we cannot let the balloon terror continue.”
The rocket fire on Thursday morning was the first such attack in over a month when a ceasefire agreement was reached between Israel and terror groups in the Strip after a deadly round of violence saw close to 700 rockets fired killing 4 Israelis. The retaliatory Israeli strikes killed 25 Palestinians.
According to reports the ceasefire agreement includes, among others, that Hamas stop the violence along the border fence and maintain a 300 meter buffer between protesters and the fence and end to the launching of incendiary and explosive balloons towards Israeli communities.
Israel in return would reopen the fishing zone and border crossings and allow the transfer of Qatari money, to enable United Nations cash-for-work programs and to open negotiations on healthcare, electricity, and more.
On Thursday the Gaza District Coordination and Liaison Administration said it foiled the smuggling of mail packages into the Hamas-run enclave containing military equipment that might have been used for terrorist purposes.
According to a statement officers at the Erez Crossing confiscated 167 out of 220 mail packages which had been ordered online from AliExpress and Amazon.
Among the products seized dual-use military items including hovering drones and spare parts, cameras, weapons equipment, military face masks, lasers, airbag mechanisms, communication equipment, electronic components, frequency disruptors and gun sites.
They were assisted by a communications officer from the Coordination and Liaison Administration together with the Crossings Authority of the Ministry of Defense and the Israel Post.
Israeli authorities intercept illicit goods heading for Hamas on a regular basis at crossings from Israel into the Strip and importing dual-use goods into the Gaza Strip, such as cameras, requires a special permit.