IDF stands down reinforcements deployed to Gaza border amid calm

IDF stands down reinforcements deployed to Gaza border amid calm

Military says it remains ‘highly prepared and ready to act quickly,’ after reassigning troops sent to the south during last month’s increased violence

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

IDF tanks stationed near the Gaza border, March 27, 2019. (Dudi Modan/Flash90)
IDF tanks stationed near the Gaza border, March 27, 2019. (Dudi Modan/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces on Sunday said it was standing down the extra forces deployed to the Gaza border region during an uptick in violence last month.

“The IDF continues to be highly prepared to act quickly according to need and situation assessment,” the military said in a statement.

During the flareup the military had deployed two additional brigades to the Gaza Division, along with an artillery battalion, fleets of drones, and field intelligence units. Reservists were also called up from air defense, intelligence and other select units. The troops were sent to the south ahead of protests on March 30 to mark Land Day and the anniversary of the “March of Return” protests, and after a rocket fired from the enclave destroyed a residential building in central Israel, injuring seven people.

Amid peak tensions, senior commanders had been preparing for a variety of scenarios, including the possibility of a deterioration of violence to the point of a large-scale ground operation.

The brigades were brought to the Gaza border region from planned training exercises. On Sunday, they were given orders to return to their usual schedules.

The decision came amid a significant decrease in the level of violence along the border. The number of balloon-borne explosive and incendiary devices flown over the border has dropped in recent weeks, though attacks have not stopped entirely. Nightly riots have ended, and the weekly protests on the border have been held farther from the security fence.

IDF tanks stationed near the Israeli Gaza border on March 26, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Egypt, the United Nations and Qatar have recently worked to broker ceasefire understandings between Israel and Hamas, which, if finalized, would provide for an end to violence emanating from the Strip in exchange for the Jewish state easing some of its restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the coastal enclave.

Israel says limitations on movement aim to prevent Hamas and other terror groups from transferring into Gaza weapons and materials used to construct tunnels and fortifications.

There appeared to be a breakthrough in the ceasefire efforts at the anniversary protests, when Palestinians in Gaza maintained relative calm along the border during large demonstrations.

Illustrative: Palestinians confront Israeli forces near the border with Israel, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 12, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Israel, in turn, reopened its two crossings with Gaza and significantly expanded the permitted fishing area around the coastal enclave.

Last year on Land Day — March 30 — Palestinians in the Gaza Strip launched the “Great March of Return,” a series of weekly protests and riots along the security fence. Israel maintains that Hamas appropriated the campaign for nefarious purposes, using the civilian protesters as cover for violent military activities.

Land Day marks a 1976 decision by the Israeli government to seize thousands of dunams of Arab-owned land in the Galilee region of northern Israel.

A senior leader of Hamas, the terror group that rules the Gaza Strip and is sworn to Israel’s destruction, on Wednesday dismissed the outcome of Israel’s election as irrelevant, as near-final results, later confirmed, showed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc had won a clear majority in the Knesset vote.

“All parties are faces of one coin, the coin of occupation,” said Khalil al-Hayya.

He said there was “no difference” between the Israeli parties, and pledged that Gaza’s Hamas rulers — who are committed to Israel’s destruction — would continue seeking to “end the occupation and achieve our national goals.”

On Friday, Palestinians said a 15-year-old was shot and killed during weekly protests along the Gaza Strip border as rioters threw rocks and fire bombs at IDF troops, who responded with tear gas and live fire. Some 7,400 Palestinians gathered for the demonstrations at several sites along the border.

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