The Israeli military plans to build a much larger fence along its border with the Gaza Strip after the recent revelation that a 28-year-old Ethiopian Israeli managed to cross illegally into Gaza last year, Haaretz reported Friday. An Israel Defense Forces (IDF) senior officer told the newspaper in Tel Aviv a similar situation should never again be allowed to happen and can be prevented only by changes in policy. “I think the soldiers did all they could to prevent him from crossing,” the officer said.
An IDF investigation found one of the military’s surveillance units spotted Avera Mengistu approaching the border fence and immediately responded. The soldiers fired warning shots, realizing he was likely an Israeli citizen only after finding his backpack, which contained a Hebrew Bible, Haaretz reported.
JUST IN: IDF forces have arrested a Palestinian after he crossed the border fence from Gaza into Israel. Suspect now being questioned.
— IDF Elite (@idfelite) July 13, 2015
After arriving in the Gaza Strip last September, Hamas officials say Mengistu was questioned by authorities before being released after they learned he was not a soldier. His whereabouts were currently unknown, though there have been suspicions raised that Hamas may still be holding him. The Palestinian political movement, considered a terrorist organization by Israel but the elected government in Gaza, has said he may have crossed into Egypt.
Upon Mengistu’s arrival in the Gaza Strip last September, he was questioned by authorities before they released him after learning he was not a soldier, according to Hamas officials. His whereabouts are currently unknown, although some suspect Hamas may still be holding him. Meanwhile, the Palestinian political group -- considered a terrorist organization by Israel but the elected government in Gaza -- has said Mengistu may have crossed the border into Egypt.
Mengistu’s action did not represent the first time either an Israeli or a Palestinian has crossed the border. Another Israeli citizen, an Arab Bedouin from the country’s south, also crossed into the Gaza Strip after Mengistu. In the aftermath, the IDF altered its protocol, Haaretz reported.
The IDF Southern Command said it would like to build an additional fence on the Israeli side of the border, thereby making it more difficult to cross from the Gaza Strip into Israel and vice versa. The area would be patrolled by unmanned vehicles that search for explosives, Haaretz reported. Construction of the new fence would require the approval of the country’s Security Cabinet.
— Thom Walker (@thompwalker) July 11, 2015
Israel’s border barrier with the Gaza Strip has been a source of controversy in the past. Palestinians have argued the barrier Israel built between Gaza and itself in 1994 cuts off crucial Palestinian farmland, an argument echoed by Palestinians affected by the barrier Israel constructed between the West Bank and itself. Egypt also has erected a barrier on its border with Gaza.
Illegal crossings to and from Gaza may pose a security issue to Israel. In the past, however, Palestinian militants desiring to stage attacks within Israel have generally done so through the use of tunnels. In the summer of 2006, Palestinian militants infiltrated Israel and launched an attack on an Israeli patrolling unit, killing two soldiers and capturing another. During the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict last summer, Israel destroyed a number of those tunnels.