Israel warns Gazans to avoid border in Friday protest
KIBBUTZ NAHAL OZ, Israel (AP) — The Israeli military on Thursday said it dropped leaflets across the Gaza Strip, warning residents to stay far from the Israeli border during a mass protest.
Military officials are expecting a large turnout at Friday’s demonstration, raising the likelihood of bloodshed.
Over 115 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire during near-weekly demonstrations.
The Hamas-led demonstrations have been fueled by despair over a decade-old Israel-Egyptian blockade, imposed after the Islamic militant group seized control of the territory.
Demonstrators have also called for the “right of return” to lost ancestral homes in what is now Israel. Some two-thirds of Gaza’s 2 million people are descendants of refugees who fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948.
Israel accuses Hamas of using demonstrators as human shields while trying to carry out attacks and says it is defending its sovereign border. Some protesters have hurled flaming tires and firebombs toward the fence, and in some cases have tried to break through.
But the vast majority of Palestinian casualties, including over 3,700 people wounded by Israeli fire, have been unarmed. The U.N. and EU have accused Israel of using excessive force, while rights groups say the open fire orders are illegal because soldiers are shooting toward unarmed people when their lives are not in imminent danger.
In the leaflets, the army told Gazans that approaching the border fence is liable to be “severely detrimental.”
“For your own benefit, it is better that you not participate in the violent riots at the fence, not attempt to breach it, and not permit Hamas to turn you into a tool to advance its narrow agenda,” the army said.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians have participated in the protests. Friday’s demonstrations are meant to coincide with “Jerusalem Day,” a day of protest against Israeli control of the city of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem day was established in 1979 in Iran to coincide with the last Friday of Ramadan. This year, the protests take on added significance after the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
In recent weeks, Israel has struggled with a new phenomenon of flaming kites flown over the border into Israel. The kites have caused wildfires and extensive damage to Israeli agricultural land nearby.
The Israeli military said it has adopted the use of drones to intercept some 500 kites and flaming balloons.
Col. Nadav Livne, commander of the unit operating the drones, told reporters Thursday that the drones now have a “more than 90 percent” success rate in taking down the kites.
“But it’s not 100 percent protection,” he said.