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IDF braces for mass march on Gaza border

 
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02/23/2008 09:29 PM

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IDF braces for mass march on Gaza border
By Amos Harel, Avi Issacharoff and Yuval Azoulay
Tags: Israel, West Bank

Gasoline ran out in Gaza over the weekend in the wake of Israeli limits on its import except for emergency vehicles. Diesel fuel is also said to be in short supply.

Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces beefed up troops along the border with Gaza, fearing thousands of Palestinians may march on the border in protest Israel's economic sanctions.

Israel fears that crowds of Palestinians might rush the border, and that large numbers of casualties will result from the army's attempts to stop them.

The concerns are based on the breaching of the Gaza-Egyptian border a month ago, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians streamed across Rafah into Egypt after Hamas blew up the wall there. Israel believes Hamas is now planning a new action, directed at Israel, to break the siege on the Gaza Strip and draw global attention to the plight of Gaza's Palestinians.

Meanwhile, three Palestinians were killed Satutday afternoon in an Israel Air Forces strike on Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip. Sources in the Strip said the dead were civilians. The IDF said the three had been observed attempting to launch a mortar at Israel.

Two armed Palestinians were killed in other incidents in the Gaza Strip. See Page 2 for more on events in Gaza.

Hamas declared Saturday as an international day of protest against the siege. Anti-Israel rallies were held in a number of Arab and European countries. Thousands of Palestinians attended the main demonstration in Gaza City, marching on the United Nations headquarters. The IDF deployed a number of battalions near the fence in the northern Strip to prepare for possible Palestinian attempts to breach the border.

The IDF Gaza Brigade has been conducting exercises simulating mass civilian marches, outfitting the soldiers with riot-control gear. The army is concerned that Palestinians may try to take over crossings on the Israel-Gaza Strip border, and that Hamas intends to march them into a Jewish community near Gaza.

Military sources cite the "Hezbollah precedent": The sign that the buffer zone in southern Lebanon was collapsing on the eve of the IDF's withdrawal in May 2000 came when the Southern Lebanese Army abandoned the Taybeh post and hundreds of unarmed Lebanese civilians marched on it.

Meanwhile, Gaza residents Saturday told Haaretz that their cars are "stuck" and they are using taxis or wagons hitched to donkeys. "At most of the gas stations you can't find diesel either," Imad, a Gaza resident, said.

Security officials told Haaretz they are meeting their pledge to the Supreme Court to transfer fuel for emergency vehicles, approximately 75,000 liters a week.

A delegation of Hamas and Islamic Jihad members met over the weekend with representatives of Egyptian intelligence in El Arish to discuss opening the Rafah border crossing. This was their third meeting in the past 10 days. News agencies reported that the Egyptians told the Palestinians that they will thwart any more attempts to rush the border.

A Hamas spokesman in the Strip, Ayman Taha, said that the parties had reached an understanding regarding the expected release today of 105 Palestinians arrested by the Egyptians in Sinai. Those arrested were apparently mainly armed activists.

[link to www.haaretz.com]
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