IDF said to restrict open-fire orders for troops near Gaza ahead of Eurovision
Move comes as Israel seeks calm to host international singing event; Iron Dome deployed across the country
The IDF has tightened the rules of engagement for troops based near the Gaza Strip as Israel seeks to maintain calm as it hosts the Eurovision song contest this week in Tel Aviv, the Haaretz daily reported Monday.
According to the report, commanders were instructed to act judiciously and told that any live fire, except in the case of an immediate danger to life, needs the authorization of the senior officer in the command. The decision is no longer left up to the forces in the field.
Israel has taken a series of steps in recent days to ensure quiet after a major round of violence with the terror groups in the Gaza Strip threatened to derail the international singing extravaganza in Tel Aviv.
Israel reopened its main crossings with the Gaza Strip on Sunday as part of a reported ceasefire agreement, after a weekend that saw low-level clashes along the border but no major outbreaks of violence.
The move came days after Israel removed restrictions on a 12-mile fishing zone off the Strip as the sides appeared to keep to a reported Egypt-brokered ceasefire that ended a deadly two-day flareup last week.
In some of the heaviest fighting in years, Palestinians shot almost 700 projectiles into Israel on May 4-5, and Israel responded with hundreds of airstrikes. Four Israelis were killed, as were 29 Gazans, including at least 11 members of terror groups.
Palestinian factions announced the ceasefire early last Monday. Israel has refused to officially confirm the ceasefire understandings.
Ahead of that fighting Israel had already deployed its Iron Dome missile defense batteries throughout the country in anticipation of a particularly tense period that includes Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Eurovision, Israel’s Memorial and Independence Days, and the first anniversary of the opening of the contentious US Embassy in Jerusalem.
Haaretz reported that reserve soldiers called up during the fighting to man the missile defense batteries were being kept on until the end of Eurovision on Saturday night.
While there had been concerns that Eurovision would be marred by rocket fire from Gaza — which targeted Israeli towns as far as Rehovot, 20 kilometers (some 12.5 miles) south of Tel Aviv last week — a reported ceasefire that was struck last Sunday evening appeared to be holding, as the long-awaited international event kicked off.
Moreover, no contestants pulled out of the competition, despite intense pressure from activists belonging to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
But whether it was the recent rocket fire, boycott calls, or simply prohibitive ticket and travel costs for some European fans, the Tel Aviv Hotel Association said the contest has attracted far fewer foreign visitors than expected.
The association’s director, Oded Grofman, estimated that hotels would see around 5,000 visitors, well below Eurovision’s forecast of 15,000. Portuguese tourism authorities claimed that last year’s songfest in Lisbon drew 90,000 people.