IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi on Wednesday ordered troops along the Gaza border to remain on alert for “various scenarios in the region,” the army said, as Israel prepares for what it fears will be a violent weekend, coinciding with the first anniversary of the Strip’s “Great March of Return” border protests.
This week has seen tensions peak between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group, with massive exchanges of fire. Throughout these bouts, Egyptian military intelligence has been working to try to broker a ceasefire. Israel is reportedly demanding an end not only to rocket fire but to all violence along the border, including regular riots along the security fence and the launching of airborne incendiary and explosive devices into Israel.
Israel has conducted three military campaigns against Hamas, which is sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state, since it took power in a violent coup in 2007 — a small ground operation in 2008-2009, known as Cast Lead; a largely aerial campaign in 2012, known as Pillar of Defense; and the 50-day Operation Protective Edge in 2014, which targeted the terror group’s attack tunnels.
On Wednesday afternoon, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh came out of hidingfor the first time since fighting began and visited the rubble of his office, which was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike on Monday night.
In a statement to the press, the chairman of the terror group’s political wing said Israel “got the message” during its latest round of attacks.
Haniyeh called on “our Palestinian people in Gaza, the occupied West Bank, and abroad to participate in Land Day (March 30) and take part in the million-man march.”
Palestinian Land Day marks a 1976 decision by the Israeli government to seize thousands of dunams of Arab-owned land in the Galilee region of northern Israel.
Last year on Land Day, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip launched the “Great March of Return,” a series of weekly protests and riots along the security fence. Israel maintains that Hamas appropriated the campaign for nefarious purposes, using the civilian protesters as cover for violent military activities.
The Israeli military is concerned that the one-year anniversary of the first March of Return on Saturday will bring tens of thousands of rioters to the Gaza border threatening to breach the security fence and enter Israeli territory en masse.
Israeli defense officials — as well as Hamas’s political foe the Palestinian Authority — accuse the terror group of encouraging these border riots in an effort to distract from its failures in governing the Gaza Strip, a crowded patch of land with crushing unemployment, limited access to electricity and potable water, and few economic prospects.
On Wednesday, Kohavi visited the Gaza Division, which defends the border area, and met with its commander, Brig. Gen. Eliezer Toledano, along with Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi.