Israel boosts Gaza border force as U.S. prepares to open Jerusalem embassy

Israel is bolstering its forces along the Gaza border and in the West Bank in anticipation of mass Palestinian protests, as the U.S. prepares to open its new embassy in Jerusalem on Monday.

Hamas has been staging weekly protests near security fence that are expected to climax Monday

Palestinian protesters face Israeli soldiers near the border with Israel, east of Rafah in the southern Gaza strip, on April 13. (Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel is bolstering its forces along the Gaza border and in the West Bank in anticipation of mass Palestinian protests, as the U.S. prepares to open its new embassy in Jerusalem on Monday.

The Israeli military announced that it had deployed additional combat battalions, special units, intelligence forces and snipers along the Gaza border. Israeli warplanes also dropped leaflets in Gaza, urging residents to stay far from the fence.

"You deserve a better government. You deserve a better future," the leaflets said. "Do not approach the security fence nor participate in the Hamas display that is putting you in risk."

The army said it was reinforcing its troops in the West Bank with several combat battalions and intelligence units in case of possible unrest there as well.

Trump announced his decision on Jerusalem in December, triggering a joyous reaction from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government. The move infuriated the Palestinians, who claim Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as their capital.

Netanyahu on Sunday praised Trump's "bold decision" in upending decades of U.S. policy by relocating the embassy from Tel Aviv and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The move prompted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to halt ties with the Trump administration, declaring it unfit to remain in its role as the sole mediator in peace talks.

A picture taken on April 13, 2018 from the southern Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz across the border with the Gaza Strip shows Israeli soldiers and Palestinian protesters gathering along the border fence with Israel. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, has been staging a series of weekly demonstrations against a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the territory. Those protests are expected to climax on Monday, with tens of thousands of people expected to gather along the Israeli border in an event timed to coincide with the U.S. embassy move.

"There continues to be real anger among Palestinians" over Trump's decision, the CBC's Derek Stoffel said from Jerusalem. "The Palestinians feel that East Jerusalem should be the capital of a future Palestinian state."

Hamas has signalled that large crowds, numbering perhaps in the thousands, might try to break through the border fence to realize the "right of return" to homes lost in 1948.

Symbolic timing

Both the embassy move and the protests have symbolic timing. Trump has said the opening is meant to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel's establishment.

In addition, "Tuesday is the day that's known as the Naqba or the catastrophe, when Palestinians mark the day that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced from their homes or fled their homes," Stoffel said.

About two-thirds of Gaza's two million people are descendants of Palestinian refugees.

A mass border breach could trigger potentially lethal Israeli force. Forty-two Palestinians have been killed and over 1,800 have been wounded by Israeli fire since weekly protests began on March 30. The UN, European Union and rights groups have accused Israel of using excessive force against unarmed protesters.

Israel says it is protecting a sovereign border and accuses Hamas of using the unrest to plan and carry out attacks. Marchers have thrown stones and burned tires at the fence and flown flaming kites over it to try to set Israeli fields on fire.

On Friday, a Palestinian crowd attacked the main cargo crossing between Israel and Gaza, disrupting shipments of cooking fuel, gasoline and building materials, and causing millions of dollars in damage. Israeli officials said it could take weeks or months to repair the crossing.

Palestinian security forces loyal to the Palestinian Authority stand at the gate of the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza, in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, on May 13, after it was closed by Israeli authorities for repairs. (Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images)

"Unfortunately, the crossing is closed today and will remain closed until the foreseeable future due to severe damage caused by Palestinian rioters," said Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesperson. "It is still unclear how long it will take to fix and replace the necessary parts."

A high-ranking delegation of Gaza's Hamas rulers headed Sunday to Egypt, amid diplomatic efforts aimed at containing Monday's mass rally. But one of the Hamas participants, Khalil al-Hayya, said there were no breakthroughs and the march would go on as planned.

Although Trump has said his declaration does not set the final borders of the city, his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital has been perceived by both Israel and the Palestinians as taking Israel's side in the most sensitive issue in their conflict.

Only two countries, Guatemala and Paraguay, have said they will follow suit. Most of the world maintains embassies in Tel Aviv, saying the Jerusalem issue must first be resolved.

With files from CBC's Derek Stoffel