Senior officer warns next week’s Gaza protests to be most violent yet — report
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Senior officer warns next week’s Gaza protests to be most violent yet — report

Demonstrations will coincide with Palestinian 'nakba' commemorations and with US embassy move to Jerusalem

Amid black smoke from burning tires, Palestinian protesters run from teargas fired by Israeli troops during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, Friday, May 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Amid black smoke from burning tires, Palestinian protesters run from teargas fired by Israeli troops during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, Friday, May 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

A senior IDF officer reportedly warned that next week’s Gaza protests are expected to be the most violent yet and could spill over into the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Some 50 Palestinians have been killed and thousands wounded in more than a month of demonstrations, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, and the IDF fears that the final act next week could be much worse.

The army anticipates that there will be 17 different sites of confrontation along the border and has stationed 11 battalions to contain the protests, the senior officer in the southern command told the Haaretz daily Friday.

There are also fears that the West Bank and East Jerusalem will see protests and the IDF has sent in reinforcements there too.

The protest will be the culmination of a month of demonstrations to mark what Palestinians call their “nakba,” or catastrophe of Israel’s founding and also the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move their embassy to the city.

The embassy ceremony will take place on May 14, the anniversary of Israel’s founding according to the civil calendar. Israel marked its Independence Day last month, according to the Hebrew calendar.

A Palestinian protester holds wire cutter after burning tires near the fence during a protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, Friday, May 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

On Friday, around 15,000 Palestinians took part in protests along the border with Israel, in the last weekly “March of Return” before next week’s Nakba Day events on May 14 and 15, when demonstrations are expected to reach their peak.

It was the seventh weekly protest, and a preview of what is expected to be a much larger border rally on Monday and Tuesday. The Hamas-encouraged demonstrations are ostensibly aimed to protest the decade-long Israeli-Egyptian blockade, imposed after the terror group seized power in Gaza in 2007, and to assert Palestinian demands for millions to “return” to lost properties in what is now Israel.

Israel says, however, that the terror group uses the protests as a cover for attacks at the border and attempts to breach it. An Islamist terror group which seeks to destroy Israel, Hamas violently took control of Gaza from Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew its military and civilian presence from the Strip. Israel and Egypt maintain a security blockade of Gaza. Israel says this is vital to prevent Hamas — which has fought three rounds of conflict against Israel since seizing Gaza, firing thousands of rockets into Israel and digging dozens of attack tunnels under the border — from importing weaponry.

The IDF is expected to try and keep the protesters further away from the fence than they have been at current protests and if possible not allow them beyond the tent camps, some 300 meters (yards) from the border, Haaretz said. It did not provide details on how the IDF would do so.

Earlier this week, Hamas’s leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar said he hoped that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians would breach the border fence from Gaza into Israel during next week’s protests.

Sinwar said the mass protest would be “decisive,” and vowed that he and other top officials were “ready to die” in a campaign to end the blockade.

In recent Fridays, Palestinian protesters have burned tires along the fence, hurled stones at Israeli troops and flown incendiary kites over dry fields on the Israeli side of the border. Some of the protesters, mainly youths, brandished wire cutters, a popular tool in weekly attempts to cut through the border fence.

Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, center, chant slogans as he surrounded by protesters during his visit to the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, Friday, April 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

According to the Hamas health ministry, around 50 Palestinians have been killed since protests and clashes began along the Gaza border on March 30 and hundreds of others have been wounded from gunfire. Israel says it only opens fire when necessary to stop infiltrations, damage to the fence, and attacks.

The Hamas-led demonstrations are ostensibly aimed to protest the decade-long Israeli-Egyptian blockade, imposed after the terror group seized power in Gaza in 2007, and to assert Palestinian demands for millions to “return” to lost properties in what is now Israel. Israel says, however, that the terror group uses the protests as a cover for attacks at the border and attempts to breach it.

Hamas acknowledged that five of its terrorists were among the fatalities after the first Friday demonstration, but has since refrained for acknowledging whether its men are among the dead. Israel has identified other fatalities as members of terrorist groups.

Israel says it only opens fire when necessary to stop infiltrations, damage to the fence and attacks.

A Palestinian demonstrator hurls stones during clashes with Israeli forces along the border with the Gaza strip, east of Gaza City, on May 11, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Though they were initially planned as non-violent demonstrations, the protests were co-opted by the Hamas terror group, which rules Gaza and whose leaders have said their goal is to erase the border and “liberate Palestine.”

The Israeli military has faced international and domestic criticism over its use of live fire, with the United Nations and European Union calling for an independent investigation rejected by Israel.

Israel says Hamas uses the marches as cover for terrorist attacks.

Israel has repeatedly expressed concern over the possibility of a mass breach of the Gaza fence, in which Palestinians would stream across with terrorists among them, wreaking havoc. Sinwar has vowed in the past that protesters would “breach the borders and pray at Al-Aqsa,” referring to the major Muslim shrine in Jerusalem.

Sinwar was freed in a prisoner swap with Israel in 2011 and was elected as the movement’s Gaza chief in 2017.

Hamas has said if the protests “don’t achieve their goals,” they will continue.

At previous peace talks, the Palestinians have always demanded, along with sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Old City, a “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees who left or were forced out of Israel when it was established. The Palestinians demand this right not only for those of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are still alive — a figure estimated in the low tens of thousands — but also for their descendants, who number in the millions.

No Israeli government would ever be likely to accept this demand, since it would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state. Israel’s position has generally been that Palestinian refugees and their descendants would become citizens of a Palestinian state at the culmination of the peace process, just as Jews who fled or were forced out of Middle Eastern countries by hostile governments became citizens of Israel.

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