Israel, Gaza brace for Friday protests as region lurches between war and calm

Strip’s Hamas rulers said to be attempting to tamp down on weekly border riots, after Jerusalem says it will step up response to renewed violence following Wednesday rocket attack.

Palestinian protestors place their national flag on a metal structure during a demonstration on the beach near the maritime border with Israel, in the northern Gaza Strip, on October 8, 2018. ( Said KHATIB / AFP)

Israel and Gaza were girding for a possible return to violence Friday, amid fears that renewed border protests could push the sides back to the brink of war after a brief violent flareup days earlier.

Israeli troops were readying for weekly border protests Friday that have turned deadly in the past, with the day being seen as a key test in whether the sides can continue negotiating a long-term ceasefire deal as part of an Egyptian-led effort.

Israel has demanded an end to the weekly confrontations, as well as the frequent launches of incendiary balloons into Israeli territory.

Daoud Shehab, a member of the organizing committee of the marches, said officials were encouraging protesters to stay away from the border fence. But he said he was not sure to what extent they would succeed in “restraining the public mood.”

“There will be attempts to prevent them from approaching the fence. There might be a reduction of balloons,” he said. “We hope there will be no human losses tomorrow. We are giving a chance to the Egyptian efforts.”

According to reports, Egypt had warned Hamas that renewed protests would bring a heavy Israeli response.

On Thursday, Israel’s top-level security cabinet instructed the army to take a wait-and-see approach to allow mediation efforts to succeed, but also ordered the military to step up reprisal attacks should there be border violence.

Ministers said the IDF should ultimately adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward rocket attacks, arson balloons and rioting along the Israeli border, according to reports in Hebrew-language media.

The army may also look to tamp down on border riots by entering areas where it previously stayed away from, according to Israel’s Channel 10 news.

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