UPDATES WITH LIEBERMAN’S REMARKS
By Abdel Raouf Arnaout
JERUSALEM (AA) – The Israeli army on Thursday announced plans to bolster its troop presence along the Gaza-Israel buffer zone, which for the last six months has seen almost-daily rallies by Palestinians.
“It was decided to reinforce our forces in the Southern Command Area [i.e., near the blockaded Gaza Strip] within coming days,” the army said in a statement.
According to the army statement, the decision was taken based on a recent situation assessment conducted by Army Chief-of-Staff Gadi Eizenkot.
The same statement goes on to assert that the army continues to view Hamas — which has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007 — as being responsible “for everything happening in and originating from” the blockaded coastal enclave.
On Thursday evening, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman instructed the army to “maintain maximum vigilance” along the Gaza-Israel buffer zone, Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported.
Lieberman reportedly gave the command at a closed-door meeting with senior army officers, including Eizenkot.
The defense minister also reportedly instructed the army to prepare for “any possible scenario”.
For the last six months, thousands of Palestinians in Gaza have taken part in almost-daily demonstrations along the heavily-fortified buffer zone.
Since the demonstrations began on March 30, scores of Palestinians have been martyred — and thousands more injured — by Israeli troops deployed along the other side of the buffer zone.
Protesters demand the “right of return” to their homes and villages in historical Palestine from which they were driven in 1948 to make way for the new state of Israel.
They also demand an end to Israel’s 12-year-long blockade of Gaza, which has gutted the coastal enclave’s economy and deprived its roughly two million inhabitants of many basic commodities.