will defend its territory and prevent an infiltration of its sovereign borders," acting Prime Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak
said on Sunday in a joint statement issued evening before Hamas-organized
mass protest in the Gaza Strip. Livni assumed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's
after the latter embarked for an official diplomatic visit to Japan.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians will join hands on Monday to form a human chain across the Gaza in protest of the ongoing siege against the Hamas-ruled territory. At an expected 30 miles of length, the chain will stretch from Rafah in the south all the way to the northern town of Beit Hanoun.
Israeli defense officials have emphasized that under no circumstances will security forces allow the Palestinians to sabotage or cross the fence along Gaza's border.
"Hamas is directly responsible for putting civilians in jeopardy, and not for the first time," Livni and Barak said, placing the blame for any future confrontation squarely on Hamas' shoulders.
"Israel is not interfering in protests taking place within Gaza, Israel is working to prevent a deterioration of the situation – but make no mistake, in the event (of such a deterioration), the responsibility lies solely with Hamas."
Security forces nationwide will be placed on heightened alert, with some 6,500 police officers deployed to southern Israel.
Hamas has said that there are no plans to breach the fence and protestors will only be carrying flags and banners denouncing the sanctions against Gaza. Officials within the ruling Islamic group said however that their men in the field will not be able to guarantee that they will not lose control of the human chain and ensure that the situation does not lead to a confrontation with Israeli troops.
Hamas has recently threatened to breach the Erez border crossing in a similar fashion to their breaching of the Egyptian border in January.
Palestinian officials have also voiced their concern that Hamas is planning to break through the border.
The chain, said organizers, would symbolize the suffering endured by the Palestinian people as a result of the sanctions imposed on Gaza.
For the third time in 10 days, a senior Hamas delegation crossed into Egypt Saturday to discuss the tenuous situation on the Gaza border, while top Egyptian security officials warned against any threats to the frontier.
The six-person Hamas delegation, led by senior Gaza Hamas officials Mahmoud Zahar and Said Siyam, crossed into Egypt from Rafah terminal to meet Egyptian security officials in nearby el-Arish, a security official familiar with the discussions said.
Egyptian officials repeated warnings to Hamas to stay away from the border and not even think of reopening it by force as they did on Jan 23rd, when explosives blew several holes in the frontier and sent hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into Egypt to shop for supplies.
Ali Waked, Attila Somfalvi, Efrat Weiss and AP contributed to this report