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Israel Warns of Snipers, Live Ammunition Ahead of Gaza Protests

Palestinians set up tents in preparation for mass demonstrations along the Gaza Strip border with Israel, in eastern Gaza City, March 27, 2018. Gaza’s embattled Hamas rulers are imploring hundreds of thousands of people to march along the border with Israel in the coming weeks — a high-risk gambit meant to shore up their shaky rule, but with potentially deadly consequences.

The Israeli army will use live ammunition to disperse planned rallies Friday in the Gaza Strip, according to Israel's top general.

Israel has deployed more than 100 sharpshooters on the Gaza border, and the soldiers have permission to open fire on protesters "if Israeli security infrastructure comes under threat," Israeli army chief of staff Gadi Eizenkot told the Israeli daily Maariv on Wednesday.

"The instructions are to use a lot of force," he said. "In the event of mortal danger [to troops], there is authorization to open fire."

Organizers said they expected thousands, including entire families, to answer their call to gather in tent cities in five locations along the sensitive border starting Friday, in a six-week protest for a right of return of Palestinian refugees to what is now Israel.

Israeli soldiers are seen near the Gaza border, March 28, 2018.
Israeli soldiers are seen near the Gaza border, March 28, 2018.

The start of the demonstration was symbolically linked to what Palestinians call "Land Day," which commemorates the six Arab citizens of Israel killed by Israeli security forces in demonstrations in 1976 over land confiscation. The weeklong Jewish holiday of Passover, when Israel heightens security, also begins Friday.

The protest is due to end May 15, the day Palestinians call the "Nakba," or "Catastrophe," marking the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the conflict surrounding the creation of Israel in 1948.

Palestinians have long demanded that as many as 5 million of their people be allowed to return to the land from which they were displaced. Israel resists the suggestions, fearing that an Arab influx would end the Jewish majority in Israel.