Nikki Guttman & Israel Hayom Staff
The Israel Defense Forces braced for violent clashes on the Gaza Strip-Israel border on Friday as the “March of Return” national committee urged Gazans to take part in demonstrations and disturbances along the border.
Judging by past demonstrations, which have been staged on a weekly basis since late March, protesters were expected to throw rocks and firebombs at Israeli troops securing the border and try to breach the border fence and infiltrate Israeli territory.
A spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committee posted a call online for all Gaza residents to march to the border to protest the blockade on the Gaza Strip. “We will break the blockade, at any price,” he wrote. “The price of freedom in blood.”
Since the demonstrations began on March 30, as many as 20,000 Gazans have been wounded in clashes with Israeli forces and dozens have been killed. Several of the wounded have criticized Hamas for organizing the demonstrations but then abandoning stricken participants.
Islamic Jihad spokesman Daoud Shahab told the Palestinian news agency Maan that the demonstrations would continue because the residents of Gaza have no other means of pressuring Israel to lift the blockade.
He added that the number of Palestinian demonstrators at the border marches has consistently increased, particularly since talks in Cairo regarding the blockade have yet to yield results.
On Thursday, the Israeli Air Force targeted a Palestinian terrorist cell launching incendiary balloons into Israel from the Gaza Strip, the Israeli media reported. Local reports in Gaza maintained that there were several casualties in the incident.
Meanwhile, incendiary balloons from Gaza set 10 fires in Israeli communities on Thursday. One such balloon carried a device that exploded some 300 feet from a residential area in the Sdot Negev regional council.
“The balloon terrorism is escalating, and today an explosive mechanism went off,” the council said in a statement. “The device was spotted by our security chief, and a police sapper unit was dispatched to the site and found its wreckage. We were extremely lucky not to have any casualties, as there were civilians nearby.”
The head of the council, Tamir Idan, said that “this incident is a terrorist attack in every respect. We want a harsh response and we trust the IDF to take the necessary actions.”
Earlier Thursday Eyal Hajbi, the chief of security at the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council, said that the incendiary balloons were gradually becoming more sophisticated, saying that recently they have been upgraded from mere arson devices to delivering grenades and explosives.
“We have seen an escalation when it comes to their quality, not their quantity,” he said. “They can cause real harm and death.”