Israel warns of dire pollution as Gazans amass tires to torch at protest

COGAT liaison to Palestinians calls on World Health Organization to prevent ‘ecological catastrophe’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

A Palestinian youth collects tires that will be burned during protests along the Gaza border in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 4, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)
A Palestinian youth collects tires that will be burned during protests along the Gaza border in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 4, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

As Gazans assemble thousands of tires to burn during Friday’s planned protest on the coastal enclave’s border with the Jewish state, Israel’s liaison to the Palestinians penned a letter Wednesday to the head of the World Health Organization calling on him to prevent the “ecological catastrophe.”

“This is a serious environmental issue that will harm the health of the residents and will cause unprecedented air pollution,” wrote Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the head of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom.

“I call upon you, as the head of an international organization whose goal is to promote health and protect natural and environmental resources, to do everything in your power to publicly warn against this ecological catastrophe and to protest Hamas’ irresponsible behavior,” he added, referring to the terror group that rules the Gaza Strip and has been supporting the protests.

The hashtag “day of the tire” has been trending on social media and organizers of the demonstrations from various Palestinian factions have called on Gazans to help them collect 10,000 tires.

The Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of the Government’s Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai. (Screenshot)

Demonstrators plan on igniting the tires, which will create a smokescreen, shielding protesters — and, the IDF said it fears, terrorists — from the view of army snipers. On Friday, the IDF said rioters used burning tires to damage the fence surrounding the coastal enclave by rolling them toward the barrier.

Instructions shared widely on Palestinian social media encouraged Gazans to not wear clothing that would stand out, and to keep their faces covered, as Israeli drones will be taking pictures of those present and will be able to identify them quickly.

The recommendations on one widely shared video urged Gazans not to wear clothes they sport in their Facebook profile pictures.

“Only Palestinian flags are to be brought to the demonstration so as not to reveal your political affiliation,” said the narrator in the video.

Moreover, women were encouraged to bring mirrors and laser pointers in order to blind IDF soldiers on the other side of the border.

In an impassioned pair of tweets, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesperson Ofir Gendelman warned that “Hamas will try this Friday to torch the border fence with Israel with thousands of tires.”

“This will burn down Palestinian fields near the border and the heavy smoke, toxins and pollution will cause a huge environmental disaster for Palestinians. But Hamas doesn’t care. Remember that,” he added.

Gendelman then predicted the terror group would lie and say that Israel “used ‘a new poisonous gas’ against Palestinians, when in fact it was the one has INTENTIONALLY caused a cloud of TOXINS that will engulf Gaza.”

On Friday, over 30,000 Palestinians demonstrated along the Gaza border, in what Israel describes as a riot orchestrated by the Hamas terrorist group, which rules Gaza, and what Palestinians say was supposed to be a peaceful protest.

There were discrepancies in Palestinian reports on the Gaza death toll from Friday. While Hamas claimed Monday that 18 had died, the official news agency of the Palestinian Authority had the number at 16. Israel has no official death toll figures. Over 1,000 were reported injured.

IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said on Saturday that all those killed were engaged in violence. Manelis said on Friday evening that the army had faced “a violent, terrorist demonstration at six points” along the fence. He said the IDF used “pinpoint fire” wherever there were attempts to breach or damage the security fence.

A picture taken on March 30, 2018 from the southern Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz across the border from the Gaza Strip shows tear gas grenades falling during a Palestinian protest, with Israeli soldiers seen below in the foreground. (AFP PHOTO / Jack GUEZ)

The IDF on Saturday named and detailed 10 of the dead as members of terror groups including Hamas. (Hamas had earlier acknowledged five of them were its members.) Islamic Jihad later claimed an 11th.

Palestinians have pointed to a handful of filmed instances from the demonstration which appeared to show protesters being shot at while posing no threat to IDF troops. The army has claimed such videos are faked and fabricated by Hamas.

Violent protests have been staged every day since Friday’s mass demonstration, though on a far smaller level, usually involving a few dozen people. Nevertheless, the army has remained on high alert in the area out of concerns that terror groups could capitalize on the tensions and carry out attacks.

On Tuesday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Israel will not be changing its policies toward Palestinians rioting along the Gaza security fence and brushed off criticism that the army used a heavy hand during Friday’s protests.

“We have set clear rules of the game and we do not intend to change them. Anyone who approaches the fence endangers his life, and I would recommend that Gaza residents put their efforts not into protesting against Israel, but into regime change within the Strip,” Liberman said during a tour of Israeli communities just outside the coastal enclave.

Most Popular
read more: