Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has informed his cabinet on Sunday that the army is preparing for a possible military campaign against the blockaded Gaza Strip in case the situation was not improved.
"If the reality of civil distress in Gaza is diminished, that is desirable, but that is not certain to happen, and so we are preparing militarily, that is not an empty statement," Netanyahu said, as reported by Anadolu Agency.
Since March 30, thousands of Palestinians have taken part in ongoing rallies along the buffer zone, to which the Israeli army has responded with deadly force. Israel has faced international criticism for its response to the mass marches. Rights groups have branded open-fire orders as unlawful, saying they effectively permit soldiers to use potentially lethal force against unarmed protesters. In the face of growing criticism over Gaza border violence, the Israeli authorities earlier said that human rights laws do not apply to ongoing Palestinian protests along the Gaza Strip. The Great Return March began, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinian demonstrators converged on the buffer zone separating Gaza from Israel. Israel has responded to the rallies, still held every Friday, with deadly force, killing at least 198 protesters until now and injuring thousands more. Israel was criticized by a U.N. human rights body for its killing of protesters in Gaza and treatment of Palestinians, declaring it a "war crime" under the Statute of Rome. The high casualty toll triggered a diplomatic backlash against Israel and new charges of excessive use of force against unarmed protesters.
Protesters demand the "right of return" to their homes and villages in historical Palestine from which they were driven in 1948 to make way for the new state of Israel. They also demand an end to Israel's 11-year blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has gutted the coastal enclave's economy and deprived its more than 2 million inhabitants of many basic commodities.