Hamas issued an unusual statement on Thursday evening, calling on the masses expected to take part in the "Great March of Return" to stick to "peaceful ways" of protest.
The terror group, which controls Gaza, has called on Palestinians in the strip to march at the Israeli border and protest there starting Friday, Land Day, and until May 15, Nakba Day.
In its statement Thursday, Hamas publicly demanded participants to avoid any action that could disrupt or distort the objectives of the protest and sabotage its success.
Meanwhile, the deputy Hamas leader in the strip, Khalil al-Hayya, visited the tent cities erected in five locations on the Israel-Gaza border to house the protesters coming from across the enclave on Thursday and delivered a similar message, calling for mass participation but stressing the protest should be done in "peaceful ways."
Israeli security forces are bracing for the upcoming mass march in the strip, and preparing for extreme scenarios envising diversion operations designed to enable Hamas terrorists to infiltrate into Israel while Israeli security forces are dealing with rioters spread across the border.
The IDF has been issuing daily warnings to the residents of Gaza ahead of the planned protest. On Tuesday evening, it warned the residents not to approach the border fence with Israel during their “Great March of Return” planned for Friday, and described it as a “March of Anarchy."
In a video posted in Arabic on the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit Facebook page, residents were told that Hamas was using them as a decoy in its violent schemes rather than providing solutions to the problems that Gazans face.
The Israeli military has also deployed more than 100 snipers on the Gaza border ahead of the planned mass demonstration.
“We have deployed more than 100 sharpshooters who were called up from all of the military’s units, primarily from the special forces,” IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot told Yedioth Ahronoth. “If lives are in jeopardy, there is permission to open fire.”
IDF soldiers are confronted by frequent violent Palestinian protests along the Gaza border and have used tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition against demonstrators who hurl rocks or Molotov cocktails at them.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, has further warned bus companies in the Gaza Strip not to cooperate with Hamas by driving residents toward the border fence.
“Anyone who approaches the border is endangering his life. From my point of view, if bus companies you own takes some of the protesters and brings them to the border, you and your families will be held personally responsible,” Mordechai warned during an interview on the US-based public Arabic-language satellite TV channel Alhurra.
The start of the demonstration was symbolically linked to what Palestinians call “Land Day”, which commemorates the six Arab citizens of Israel killed by Israeli security forces in demonstrations in 1976 over land confiscations. The week-long Jewish holiday of Passover, when Israel heightens security, also begins on Friday.
The protest is due to end on May 15, the day Palestinians call the “Nakba” or “Catastrophe”, marking the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the conflict surrounding the creation of Israel in 1948.
Palestinians have long demanded that as many as five million of their compatriots be granted the right to return. Israel rules this out, fearing an influx of Arabs that would eliminate its Jewish majority. Israel argues the refugees should resettle in a future state that the Palestinians seek in West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Reuters contributed to this story.