JERUSALEM, August 23 – Israel is bracing for mass protests on its border with Gaza on Friday following threats by Hamas and Islamic Jihad to up the ante after they accused the Jewish state of reneging on an agreement to ease the joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the coastal territory.
The blockade has exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation.
An Israeli military spokesman warned both Islamist groups to keep demonstrations in check after a Palestinian in northern Gaza was seriously wounded. He was shot at after he threw grenades at Israeli soldiers near the border on Thursday night.
The warning also followed three previous incidents of projectile fire from Gaza towards Israel over the last week and several border incidents in which Palestinian gunmen approached the border, with some succeeding in crossing into Israel before being shot dead during an exchange of fire with Israeli security forces.
The Israeli air force responded to the firing of rockets with retaliatory airstrikes on Gaza, heightening tensions after a period of relative calm.
Following a year of mass protests on the border, called the Great March of Return, which has left hundreds of mostly unarmed Palestinians dead after Israeli soldiers opened fire on them, Israel agreed to ease the siege on Gaza following Egyptian and United Nations mediation.
But Gazans, and specifically several armed groups, said the easing of restrictions has been very slow with Israel reneging on some of its commitments.
Earlier in the week, Palestinian factions in Gaza warned Israel that the Strip was “a volcano that is about to erupt” and that “Israel is continuing to play with fire.”
Meanwhile, Palestinian protesters from the two West Bank cities of Abu Dis and Izzariyah, near Jerusalem, are planning a “day of rage” on Friday in support of Palestinian political prisoners, many of whom are in administrative detention or detention without trial, in Israeli jails.
These are in addition to other demonstrations also planned for other West Bank cities on Friday – the Muslim day of rest when most protests take place.
Over the last few weeks there have been several violent incidents in the occupied territory, including the stabbing death of an Israeli soldier and a car-ramming attack on two Israeli settlers, leaving one of them critically injured and the other moderately wounded.
Israeli intelligence warns that the area could ignite just before elections are due to be held in September – a historically sensitive time in the country.
Prior to the Israeli intelligence warning, a report was compiled by Palestinian Authority intelligence stating that several dormant military cells were planning further attacks on Israeli settlers and the Israeli military.