Israel said to warn Hamas any error could lead to war, as IDF preps for violence

After overnight siren sends southern residents scrambling for bomb shelters in false alarm, some leave the area ahead of possible uptick in violence over the weekend

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

As the Israeli military continued its preparations for a possible outbreak of violence at protests along the Gaza border planned for Saturday, an Egyptian delegation reportedly told Hamas that any mistake it makes could lead to war.

The Israeli military said Thursday it is readying for protests along the Gaza border planned for Saturday, Palestinians’ Land Day, and a possible outbreak of violence. Land Day also marks a year since the start of weekly violent protests along the Israel-Gaza border, known as the March of Return, which at times have escalated into exchanges of fire between Israel and Palestinian terror groups in the coastal enclave, most recently earlier this week.

An Egyptian military intelligence delegation has been working to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas ahead of the mass protest, amid fears that clashes along the border could snowball into a larger conflagration.

On Thursday, the delegation passed a message from Israel to Hamas, telling the Gaza-ruling terror group: “Any mistake you make on Saturday could lead to war,” Channel 12 news reported.

Israeli troops take up positions near the Gaza border on March 26, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

According to the report, Hamas is planning a mass transportation operation for Saturday, picking up protesters from 38 locations in the enclave and shuttling them to five sites along the border. Field hospitals have reportedly been set up at various points, and medical facilities in the Strip are on an emergency footing.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he’d ordered the military to prepare for an “extensive campaign” should Egypt-brokered ceasefire negotiations fail.

Ahead of the protests and riots expected for the weekend, the Israel Defense Forces deployed three additional brigades to the Gaza Division, along with an artillery battalion, and called up reservists from air defense and other select units.

According to the Walla news site, senior commanders are preparing for a variety of scenarios, including the possibility of deterioration to the point of a large-scale ground operation.

The military canceled weekend leave for all combat soldiers stationed in the Southern Command and published a video it said showed troops in recent days preparing for fighting inside Gaza, including training for urban warfare and house-to-house fighting similar to the conditions in the Strip.

A number of residents of Israeli communities along the Gaza border have chosen to leave the area for the weekend ahead of the planned demonstrations.

“We mainly want the children to be far from all these events,” one resident told the Ynet news site.”This time we decided because of the preparations, which are expected to be very tense, we just want to go outside and breathe, all of us together as a community and return at the end of the fighting.

“It’s the safest for everyone — the army must act as much as necessary — but mainly allows us peace of mind after very tense days, sirens and missiles,” the resident added.

A falsely triggered rocket alarm sent Israelis on the border region scrambling for bomb shelters early Friday morning, amid sky-high tensions along the frontier.

Residents of southern Israel protest over the government’s response to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, at the entrance to city of Sderot, on March 26, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces said the rocket siren, which sounded in the Eshkol region just before 1 a.m., was a false alarm.

It did not say what triggered the siren, which went off following a day of low-level violence along the border, following a flare-up of cross-border fire earlier in the week.

The siren came as Gazans were reportedly holding low-scale nighttime riots along the border, which often include the throwing of improvised explosives at the border fence and at Israeli troops across the volatile border. In the past, the explosives have managed to set off rocket alarms.

On Thursday, an Israeli drone fired at a group of Palestinians launching balloon-borne incendiary devices into Israel from the northern Gaza Strip, lightly injuring three of them, according to local media reports.

Throughout the day, several incendiary devices attached to balloons landed in the Eshkol and Sha’ar Hanegev regions of southern Israel.

Violence this week started after a rocket fired from Gaza struck a farming community in central Israel early Monday, leveling a home and injuring seven people, including two small children.

Israeli security forces inspect the scene of a house that was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in the town of Mishmeret in central Israel on March 25, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Israeli warplanes subsequently carried out dozens of bombing runs and Gazans fired some 60 projectiles at southern Israel, with the violence only waning before dawn Wednesday.

A senior member of Hamas’s military wing said Thursday that the rockets recently fired from the Gaza Strip toward central Israel launched on their own due to the terror group’s heightened war footing.

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

Last year on Land Day, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip launched the Great March of Return, a series of weekly protests and riots along the security fence that have at times seen the participation of tens of thousands of Palestinians. Israel maintains that the Hamas terror group appropriated the campaign for nefarious purposes, using the civilian protesters as cover for violent activities.

A picture taken on March 26, 2019, shows a Hamas policeman standing guard next to the rubble of a building in Gaza City that was targeted the night before by an Israeli air raid. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Some 30,000 Palestinians participated in the first protest event, held on March 30 2018. Fifteen Palestinians were killed in clashes with IDF soldiers protecting the border. Since then over 180 Palestinians have been killed in border violence, according to February figures from the UN Human Rights Council. Hamas has claimed dozens of the dead as members.

Israeli defense officials — as well as Hamas’s political foe, the Palestinian Authority — accuse the terror group of encouraging the border riots in an effort to distract from its failures in governing the Gaza Strip, a crowded patch of land with crushing unemployment, limited access to electricity and potable water, and few economic prospects.

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