Israel to deploy tear gas-dropping drones on planned Gaza border protests
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Israel to deploy tear gas-dropping drones on planned Gaza border protests

Officials fear tent protest and march over next several weeks will turn violent; new technology can allow police to use riot control measures in areas previously unreachable

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative photo of Palestinian demonstrators near the Israeli border fence with the Gaza Strip as the IDF shoots tear gas at them, January 3, 2014. (David Buimovitch/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of Palestinian demonstrators near the Israeli border fence with the Gaza Strip as the IDF shoots tear gas at them, January 3, 2014. (David Buimovitch/Flash90)

Border Police are planning to deploy a newly developed drone that can drop tear gas canisters against Palestinian demonstrators expected to march on the border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip in the coming weeks, according to a report Wednesday.

Hamas has called for a peaceful protest beginning of March 30, with thousands of Palestinians moving to tent cities to be built along Israel’s border. In mid-May, coinciding with the English date of Israel’s Independence Day, known to Palestinians as the Nakba, or catastrophe, a mass march is planned on the border, which Israelis fear will turn violent.

Border Police Deputy Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai, who is leading the drone development, told the Hadashot TV news outlet that the tear gas drone gives security forces an extended reach.

The unmanned aerial vehicle can carry up to six canisters at a time, and drop them individually, as clusters, or all at the same time. Developers are working to increase the payload to 12 canisters as well as field more drones.

“Beyond the fact that this equipment neutralizes any danger to the troops, it enables reaching places that until now we couldn’t get to,” he said.

Palestinian men evacuate an injured protester during clashes with Israeli troops along the border fence near Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on March 16, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

Currently, troops shoot tear gas cannisters as a riot control method from hand-held cannons, with limited accuracy. The cannisters have also seriously maimed protesters hit by them.

Two weeks ago, the Border Police tested the drone over the fence during what have become regular Friday protests at the Gaza border.

Israeli officials fear the border protests, which will also include smaller marches leading up to the May 15 demonstration, will serve to escalate already high tensions along the border. A series of bombs placed along the border during the weekly protests have targeted Israeli patrols in recent months, raising concerns.

According to the Israeli TV report, Hamas has budgeted $10 million to fund the protests.

“We want to frighten the Israelis with the images of massive crowds of people who peaceably gather and sit close to the border,” Hamas spokesman Ahmed Abu Retaima told Bloomberg News this week. “We are working to bring out more than 100,000 people for the march.”

The timing of the protests, during major holidays, has also increased jitters of violence.

March 30, which will be marked by Israeli Jews as the first night of Passover, coincides with Land Day, during which Palestinians commemorate an Israeli decision in 1976 to expropriate land in the Galilee — a move that sparked widespread riots that resulted in the death of six Arab Israeli citizens.

May 15, when Palestinians mark the Nakba — the “catastrophe” of Israeli independence in 1948, is the first night the holy month of Ramadan can be declared.

The test of the tear gas drone during a protest two weeks ago was considered a success, according to the Hadashot report.

Footage from Lebanese media outlet al-Mayadeen, which is seen as sympathetic to the Hezbollah terrorist group, showed the Israeli drone apparently dropping canisters of tear gas on the protesters, who could then be seen running from the scene.

The drone enables security forces to begin engaging rioters before the draw close to the fence.

Channel 10 television news reported Wednesday that the IDF is also preparing for the march by building sand berms for sniper positions, setting up lookout posts and laying down barbed wire in the area. According to the report, the IDF will deploy addition units in the border area in the coming days, although commanders have not yet decided how many troops will be brought in.

On Thursday IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot will conduct a situational assessment of the border area, Channel 10 reported.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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