Hamas on Sunday carried out an unprecedented military exercise in the Gaza Strip, including the test-firing of a rocket, as Israel boosted its forces along the border in preparation for a Palestinian planned mass march on Passover eve.
Eyewitnesses said the terror organization fired at least one rocket towards the Mediterranean and practiced attacking several models of Merkava tanks, similar to those used by the IDF.
On Saturday, the group’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, warned residents ahead of the drill, claiming that the exercise was “defensive” only.
Hebrew media reported that the Israeli military was completing preparations for a planned Palestinian “day of rage” on Passover Eve this coming Friday, when thousands of Palestinians in the Strip, encouraged by Hamas, are expected to try to march to the fences marking the borders with Israel.
Palestinian tractors in the Hamas-run Strip began preparing an area east of Khan Yunis on Sunday morning for a tent city planned for the march. As well as leveling the area near the border with Israel, the tractors set up dirt mounds intended to protect the participants from Israeli gunfire.
Gaza news agency Al Aqsa Voice said this was one of six camps planned for Friday’s protest, which it described as “a peaceful sit-in.”
بدء مناورات "الصمود والتحدي" التي تنفذها كتائب الشهيد عز الدين القسام في جميع أنحاء القطاع pic.twitter.com/rwFRtju2zS
— صوت الأقصى (@Alaqsavoice) March 25, 2018
The coming days will see a significant boost in IDF forces situated along the Gaza border. The cabinet focused on the expected protests during its weekly meeting on Sunday.
A Hadashot TV report on Saturday night said the IDF has briefed local council heads adjacent to Gaza ahead of the anticipated tensions in the coming days.
— Ÿousef???????? (@Joo_Gaza) March 25, 2018
Late on Saturday, a group of Palestinians from Gaza infiltrated into Israel and tried to damage machinery being used to construct a new anti-tunnel barrier around the coastal enclave. The four Palestinians fled the scene as Israeli troops arrived, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
The men tried to set fire to some of the machinery, according to video footage filmed by al-Jazeera, which showed the group of four men, with help from a fifth, cutting the security fence. The masked Palestinian men run up and over an earth berm, into the area where the engineering equipment was sitting unattended. After a few moments, smoke is then been seen coming out of the area.
צילום ערבי של מחבלי חמאס הערב חוצים את הגדר ובורחים חזרה למאורה שלהם.
Posted by Pub-leak on Saturday, 24 March 2018
Since last year, the Israeli military has been working full-steam to complete the security barrier, which is specifically designed to counter the border-crossing attack tunnels that have been used by terrorist groups against IDF troops and which threaten the Israeli communities surrounding the Strip. It will replace the short chain-link fence that currently surrounds Gaza. The barrier is meant to be completed by the end of 2019.
On Passover Eve, March 30, Palestinians and Israeli Arabs throughout Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza will mark Land Day, commemorating an Israeli decision in 1976 to expropriate land in the Galilee — a move that sparked widespread riots that resulted in the death of six Arab Israeli citizens.
Palestinian groups in Hamas-run Gaza have for weeks been planning a “Mass March of Return,” which they hope will see tens of thousands of participants surging toward border fences.
The IDF is said to be seeking to strike a balance between preventing anyone from breaching the fences, while also averting fatalities.
Tensions between Israel and terror groups in the Palestinian enclave have risen in recent weeks after a number of bombs exploded near IDF patrols along the border, sparking reprisal attacks.