(Bloomberg) -- Israeli forces arrested three armed Palestinians who breached a border fence from the Gaza Strip and were caught 20 kilometers (12 miles) away, near a military base, the army said.
Carrying hand grenades, knives and wire cutters, they were apprehended close to the Tze’elim base Tuesday morning, three days before Palestinians are set to begin six weeks of protests along Gaza’s heavily guarded barrier with Israel, according to the military. It was the second infiltration this week, after four Gazans tried to torch an Israeli military vehicle near the border fence Sunday, but escaped back to Palestinian territory when they saw Israeli troops approaching.
Tuesday’s infiltration had “serious potential” to cause harm, army spokesman Ronen Manelis said on Twitter. “We are investigating, studying and will draw the appropriate conclusions.”
While the demonstrations -- which are to include a march by tens of thousands of Gaza residents to the fence -- are being billed as non-violent, Israel has been bolstering its military forces and moving tanks near the border. The mood in the territory has been darkening as the economic situation deteriorates and a tenuous Palestinian reconciliation deal unravels. Earlier this week, Hamas held a large-scale military exercise across Gaza to advertise its readiness for any confrontation.
The planned protests come amid growing tensions over President Donald Trump’s December recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as well as a yet-to-be-released U.S. peace plan that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has already pledged to reject. Abbas severed all official Palestinian contact with the White House in December.
Hamas leaders announced they’ll begin building tent camps this week along Gaza’s 40-kilometer border with Israel. Six weeks later Palestinians plan a mass march toward the border, in spite of warnings from Israeli officials to stay 100 meters from the fence.
In a statement Tuesday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry denounced the planned march as a “dangerous, premeditated provocation meant to fan the flames of conflict and increase tension.” Israel has a right to defend its borders against infiltration attempts, the ministry said.
The steps follow a surge in violence in recent weeks. Palestinians, who demand the eastern part of Jerusalem as their own capital, have been storming the Gaza fence and planting bombs targeting Israeli soldiers, drawing retaliatory fire and airstrikes. Several Israelis have been killed in stabbing and car-ramming attacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The Gaza protests correspond with red-letter dates on the Palestinian calendar. March 30 is “Land Day,” marking a 1976 incident when Israeli forces killed six Arab citizens amid violent demonstrations. In mid-May, when the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem is tentatively slated to open, Palestinians commemorate the “Nakba,” or catastrophe, of Israel’s founding.
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