Residents of communities along the border with the Gaza Strip bade a reluctant farewell to IDF soldiers who on Thursday were pulled out of guard duties there.
Soldiers will no longer man guard posts in 13 communities that abut the Gaza border, with security duties henceforth to fall on the residents themselves. Those living in the communities said that the constant presence of soldiers was reassuring with the Gaza Strip so close to their homes.
Community leaders and the regional council requested an urgent meeting with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon but had yet to receive a response by Thursday, Yedioth Ahronoth reported.
On Wednesday dozens of local residents held a demonstration in the Netiv Ha’asarah community against the pullout, which the IDF’s Operations Directorate decided on in September.
Communities near the border with Gaza have sustained frequent rocket and mortar attacks over the past decade. Those attacks have diminished somewhat since Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense, a week-long military operation that sought to curb rocket fire from the Strip a year ago.
There have also been several incidents of Gazans infiltrating communities near the Gaza border and sometimes carrying out attacks against residents. Earlier this month, IDF soldiers discovered an underground tunnel linking Gaza and Israel, likely intended to facilitate a terror attack or kidnapping attempt inside Israel.
At the time, security officials said front line communities would still be protected, even though the soldiers were pulling out, because the technology equipment used to defend the border had improved in recent years. Enhanced border security measures, such as patrols, lookout posts and electronic sensors, made the presence of the soldiers inside the towns less necessary, the army’s evaluation showed, according to an IDF source.
Protecting the border communities costs tens of millions of shekels each year, but the decision was made as a result of operational and structural decisions and not due to cost, the army said.
Similarly, the army’s Northern Command is to withdraw troops near front line towns close to the Lebanese border.
The military will continue to protect settlements in the West Bank because the threats facing them are “more scattered” in nature, and thus require manpower on the ground, an army operations source confirmed following the decision.
Michal Shmulovich contributed to this report.