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.
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.