Officials began distributing weapons and other military equipment Thursday to civilian standby security teams from communities close to the Gaza Strip, as a step towards the eventual return home of those who have been evacuated from those areas due to the ongoing war with Hamas.
In a joint statement, the Israel Defense Forces and Defense Ministry said the move is part of the “Return of the Wind” program to boost border defense.
At first, “basic combat equipment” is to be handed out including weapons, ceramic vests, and helmets.
Later, more equipment will be distributed that includes additional medical and logistical equipment, the statement said.
The process will continue in the coming weeks.
A video released with the statement showed groups receiving rifles, webbing, and other equipment.
War erupted on October 7 when Hamas led some 3,000 terrorists to burst through the border with Gaza and then rampage murderously through southern regions where they killed over 1,200 people, mostly civilians. The attack, which came under cover of a massive barrage of rockets fired at Israel, saw terrorists overrun communities and slaughter those they found. Families were murdered as they huddled together in their homes or were burned to death. Victims, including children, were raped, tortured, or mutilated. At an outdoor music festival, over 340 people were slaughtered. At least 240 people of all ages were abducted and taken as hostages in Gaza, though some have since been freed.
Border community standby security teams, usually staffed by residents, fought back against the terrorists but in many places were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of attackers. Communities were evacuated as the army worked to clear them of terrorists who had holed up inside.
Israel responded with a military campaign aimed at destroying Hamas, removing it from power in Gaza, and releasing the hostages. As the war continued Hamas and other terror groups continued to fire volleys of rockets at Israel, with southern border communities taking the brunt. Over 200,000 Israelis have been displaced, including from the north where Lebanese terror groups have also fired rockets at the country.
Rapid procurement of equipment by the Defense Ministry and the training of standby forces, which has been intensified since fighting started and is to be further expanded, “will be a key element in restoring security provisions for residents,” the statement said.
The program will “allow better conditions for the return of residents to the communities in the coming weeks.”
Later, the distribution of weapons will be expanded to other areas.
In addition, the number of IDF soldiers deployed in each border community will be increased and the training that troops undergo will be expanded, “using a unique training model for the needs on the ground.”
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has indicated that residents in some communities close to the northern Gaza area, though not those immediately adjacent to the Strip, may be able to return early next year.
Following the outbreak of war, the IDF’s Border Defense Corp in conjunction with the army’s Planning Division, the Home Front Command, and other units carried out a major review of security arrangements that included “a rethinking of the optimal method of operating the community defense forces at the country’s borders.”
Local mayor and civilian security officers were also involved in the assessment, the statement said.