Locals feel war could be just weeks away

Palestinian protesters climbed over the border fence during a protest on the beach at the border with Israel near Beit Lahiya this week. Photo: AP Photo/Khalil Hamra

AS angry protests rage and fires burn in Gaza, residents of Southern Israel are bracing themselves for violence.

“I think there’s going to be a big war,” Barbara Edrei, 49, said when she was out shopping near her home in Sderot on Monday. “I hope not, but I’m very concerned, and feel it could be any day.”

Local businessman Pini Shlitkovitz, 57, said he was certain that a round of violence is in the offing.

“Things will explode, no doubt, and probably in the next few days,” he said.

In the nearby Kibbutz Or Haner, workers were cleaning up from a terror fire, and in Jerusalem politicians were sending a tough message to Hamas.

“Hamas, apparently, has not internalised the message,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a cabinet meeting.

“If they do not stop the violent attacks against us, they will be stopped in a different way and it will be painful – very painful.”

The fighting talk was quickly accompanied by action.
Israel normally sends shipments of fuel to Gaza, but Israel’s Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman has now halted all fuel shipments, further reducing the already-limited electricity supply in the coastal enclave.

Lieberman declared: “As long as the violence in the Gaza Strip does not stop completely, including the launching of flares and the burning of tyres … the supply of fuel and gas to the Gaza Strip will not be resumed.”

The attacks riling the Israeli leadership include balloons and kites dispatched from Gaza to start fires.

They have increased recently, with 130 fires in the last six weeks.

“These attacks started in March, but there was a lull, however now they are happening all the time,” Eyal Hagbi, security chief for the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council, told The AJN.
Devices for aerial arson have grown, and for the first time a 16-foot blimp was launched.

It was daubed with a Hebrew message saying: “If we are doomed to suffer, then we will not suffer alone.”

There is also frustration in Jerusalem that the regular riots on the border, which started more than six months ago, are continuing and that Hamas is taking steps to make them larger.

Last Friday, more than 15,000 people took part.

According to the military, “rioters burnt tyres and hurled rocks, explosive devices and grenades at IDF troops and the security fence,” and some protesters breached the border fence allowing 20 Palestinians to briefly enter Israel.

IDF soldiers responded and seven Palestinians were reported killed. Gaza activists are expected to tap in to anger over the deaths to galvanise even more people this Friday.

Incidents continued through the week, including the planting of an explosive device by the border fence on Monday. Israel responded to this attack by sending a plane to bomb a Hamas position in Gaza.

Netanyahu finished his warning to Hamas by saying: “We are very close to a different kind of activity, an activity that will include very powerful blows. If it has sense, Hamas will stop firing and stop these violent disturbances, now.”

Israelis are divided over whether the government’s decision to cut Gaza’s fuel supply is the right move.

Many on the right of Knesset support the move, but some say it is too timid. Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party said that Israel should “kill terrorists who want to kill us” – advocating killing Hamas leaders instead of stopping fuel tankers.

On the other hand, some politicians say that Israel should be looking for dialogue with Hamas.

Yoav Gallant of the centrist Kulanu party has called for renewed attempts to reach a ceasefire with Gaza’s leaders, and said that people who are calling for war don’t know what they are talking about.