IDF preparing for 'Friday of the Tires' protests in Gaza
Army preparing reinforcements and special means to combat 10,000 burning tires, mirrors blinding snipers and other measures expected to be deployed by Hamas in Friday's protests; US State Department stands alongside Israel, condemns 'leaders who send protesters to fence, knowing they may be killed'; UN Envoy to Middle East Mladenov says, 'Israeli forces should exercise maximum restraint, Palestinians should avoid friction at Gaza fence.'
Six conflagration points are expected, from the northern part of the strip to the southern part, with protests beginning in the morning and reaching a zenith in the afternoon—after traditional Friday prayers.
The US State Department stood alongside Israel overnight Thursday by releasing a statement beseeching the leaders of the protests to ensure they were conducted peacefully.
"The United States strongly urges protest leaders to communicate loudly and clearly that protestors should march peacefully; should abstain from all forms of violence; should remain outside the 500-meter buffer zone (the area between the border fence and the strip proper—ed); and should not approach the border fence in any way or any location," the statement said.
"We condemn leaders and protestors who call for violence or who send protesters—including children—to the fence, knowing that they may be injured or killed. Instead, we call for a renewed focus by all parties on finding solutions to the dire humanitarian challenges facing Gazans," the State Department's message concluded.
Hamas's Interior Ministry in Gaza, meanwhile, published instructions ahead of the protests in which it asked protesters to refrain from contact with IDF soldiers, to cover their faces as best they can and to avoid using cellular phones.
In addition, the International Committee of the Red Cross put out word ahead of expected conflicts in which it demanded parties avoid as much as possible exposing civilians to potential harm.
"The human toll demonstrates the importance for all sides to take all possible precautions to minimize exposure to harm and casualties among the civilian population," Fabrice Edouard, acting Head of ICRC Sub Delegation in Gaza, said in a press statement.
"We recognize Israel's security concerns, yet it is imperative that lethal force only be used as a last resort and when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life," Edouard's statement concluded.
UN Middle East Envoy Nickolay Mladenov also weighed in on the matter Thursday, urging Israel to show "maximum restraint" and Palestinians to "avoid friction" during protests at the Gaza-Israel border.
He voiced concern ahead of Friday, the Muslim sabbath, when the number of Palestinian protesters at the Gaza-Israel border is expected to increase.
"I am following with concern the continuing preparations and rhetoric for this Friday's 'Great Return March' in Gaza," said Mladenov, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.
"Israeli forces should exercise maximum restraint and Palestinians should avoid friction at the Gaza fence. Demonstrations and protests must be allowed to proceed in a peaceful manner. Civilians, particularly children, must not be intentionally put in danger or targeted in any way."
IDF: 'Smoke from 10,000 tires will not change situation'
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman held status evaluations with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot Thursday regarding the protests, which may develop to confrontations, and instructed the army to prevent any harm coming to Israeli sovereignty.
"We have no interest in disrupting protests held deep within the strip," IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis said.
"Smoke from 10,000 tries will not change the situation and we have prepared especially for that eventuality," Manelis said. "It may be nothing more than a gimmick. Hamas has failed operationally but interprets the international response to its actions as support to continue on its path," the army's spokesperson added.
Riots centered on two hotspots Thursday—near the Gaza neighborhood of Shuja'iyya and in Khan Yunis—where a Palestinian attempt to lob an explosive device at the border fence was thwarted.
The simultaneous burning of so many tires in a relatively small area may have disastrous ecological ramifications. Due to the fear or such ecological damage, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai sent a letter to the head of the World Health Organization, in which he urged him to speak against the "ecological catastrophe" likely to be caused.
"The Hamas terrorist organization, which controls the Gaza Strip, has issued an order to burn about 10,000 tires this Friday along the border with Israel," he wrote. "The burning of tires in such a huge quantity will cause severe damage to the ecosystem in the area, will severely harm the life, the flora and health of the residents, and will add to the severe damage to the aquifer and lead to unprecedented air pollution.
As initial inquiries into border incidents in last Friday's riots concluded, the chief of staff has decided to afford his full support to forces operating along the border, on the backdrop of allegations that simple protesters were killed by IDF fire. Nevertheless, forces operating in the area received the inquiries' conclusions ahead of Friday's events.
Brig.-Gen. Manelis added, "Hamas will attempt to once again carry out attacks under cover of the riots (Friday). It has failed in bringing civilians to the strip's border, and so forces its own men to reach the encampments with their families. We have no intention of allowing these events to become weekly occurrences."
Senior Hamas official and deputy chairman of the terror group's political bureau Mousa Abu Marzook attacked IDF Arabic Spokesman Major Avichay Adraee on Twitter.
"Sheikh Avichay Adraee determined that protests were forbidden by Islamic law. Now he's saying that tire burning is forbidden as well, but the killing of those holding tires is permitted," Abu Marzook tweeted mockingly.
"Allah's words are just, in calling him and his ilk those who take things out of context. My advice and request to anyone following him on Twitter and Facebook is to stop doing so. That is the appropriate response for his fabrications in the name of Allah," the senior Hamas official stated.
Aerial reconnaissance followed by elimination
The IDF published a video Thursday afternoon showing the armed terrorist who attempted to infiltrate Israel in the early hours of the day. According to Palestinian forces, which retrieved the terrorist's body, he was carrying a weapon, grenades and an explosive device. No Israelis were hurt in the incident.
The incident took place early Thursday, when an Israeli fighter jet fired at an armed terrorist near the border fence in the northern Gaza Strip, according to the IDF Spokesperson's Unit.
Four hours after the IDF announced it had targeted the terrorist, Palestinian rescue services said that a body had been removed from the scene of the attack east of the Zeitoun neighborhood.
According to suspicion, the terrorist intended to carry out a shooting attack against IDF soldiers, but after his body was examined by Palestinian authorities, he was found to have been armed with frag grenades and an explosive vest, in addition to an AK-47 rifle.
The army considered the incident another attempt in a series of many similar attempts taking place over the last two weeks to carry out terrorist attacks along the strip's border under cover of mass protests—also expected to be held Friday.
IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Manelis cautioned Thursday afternoon that the terror group ruling the isolated enclave was "playing with fire and will face the consequences of these incidents, which unmask its true intentions: to carry out terror attacks."
'They said they will lock us up' – Hamas threatens strip bus companies
COGAT Mordechai published a recording Thursday evening on COGAT's Arabic-language Facebook page that revealed the manner in which Hamas is strong-arming executives of local bus companies to ferry rioters and terrorists to participate in border protests.
"In a talk a COGAT officer held with a representative of a bus company from the strip, a horrifying sequence of events emerged: threats, arrests, impounding and even sending Hamas-affiliated drivers to force bus companies to bring rioters to violent clashes near the border with Israel," Mordechai posted.
"This is the true face of the terror organization that claims the violent riots are spontaneous. Hamas is also using terrorism against its own people, and we have further proof of that," he concluded.
In the recording, the owner of a Gaza transportation company is heard telling the officer, "They came in, arrested us and pressed charges. They told me they wanted to lock me up and brought in other drivers. They said they wanted to impound my buses. What was I supposed to do?"
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.