IDF troops stationed in communities that are not adjacent to the Gaza border will leave their posts on Sunday, for the first time since Operation Protective Edge, despite fierce protests from local residents.
The residents of the Gaza border communities say they are outraged at the decision made by GOC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Sami Turgeman, who they claim promoted the move, and at heads of authorities who, according to them, failed to make sufficient efforts to reserve the decision.
Their concern with the IDF decision comes in the wake of Hamas violations of the ceasefire - several rockets were recently fired from Gaza at southern Israel, and an IDF soldier was seriously wounded from Palestinian sniper fire near the border.
In an attempt to calm the tensions, Gaza Division Commander, Brig.-Gen. Itay Virov, met with Nahal Oz residents on Saturday, promising to do all he can to keep them safe.
He noted that Israel's objectives in Operation Protective Edge were not to deliver a fatal blow to Hamas, but that the terror organization nevertheless suffered a blow "the likes of which it hasn't seen in years."
"Hamas is an evil, cruel and scheming enemy, and yet the alternatives I see to Hamas' rule and to military rule in Gaza are far worse. That's why I think ... it wasn't the right thing to do at the time - it's a good thing we didn't defeat Hamas," he said. "At the end of the day, we wanted to see Hamas stay where it is. The Strip's collapse can lead to worse places."
Virov also asserted he did not think there was any sense in defeating Hamas. "To (think we can) deter someone in Saja'iyya is pretentiousness, not to mention great arrogance. Hamas has something to lose in this war. Gaza is a great tragedy. It has nothing.
"Gaza's rulers will not despair of wars, and do not have a lot of alternatives to war. The tens of thousands of houses with their ceiling plastered to the floor and the dozens of streets that vehicles can't even pass through - there's no guarantee they'll deter the Gazan people," he concluded.
Instead of the troops, new security measures such as electronic fences will be provided to communities located at a distance of more than one kilometer (0.621 miles) from the Gaza Strip. Soldiers will continue to protect the kibbutzim of Nahal Oz and Kerem Shalom, as well as the community of Netiv HaAsara. According to reports, troops may be called to reinforce positions near the three communities.
The army said that the decision was made "after an evaluation of the security situation, under the understanding that the protection IDF offers to residents of Gaza-border communities is optimal, and in coordination with the heads of communities."
On Wednesday, the IDF stopped a protest march by dozens of Gaza-border residents which left from Kibbutz Nirim towards an exposed Gaza tunnel entrance, demonstrating against the withdrawal of IDF protection in the area.
"There is a crisis of faith between us and the military," complained one of the marchers, Anat Hefez, from Kibbutz Nirim. "The removal of the soldiers only worsens the crisis. There are whole communities on the Gaza-border who depend on the soldiers for security, which allow them to continue their daily routine; now, without the soldiers, we are faced with the threat of substantial danger."
Answering to criticism on the lack of clear communications between the army and the Gaza border communities, Virov agreed that "we need to clarify communications with the home front and give clearer instructions to the population on how to organize an evacuation, ect. I hope we won't repeat past mistakes."