Israeli Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Gadi Eizenkot has warned that the army has been given authorization to open fire ahead of mass protests on the Gaza border planned for Friday if there are any attempts to cross the Gaza border fence into Israel.
Eizenkot said reinforcements, including special forces snipers, had been deployed to the border to counter what he said was the most serious risk of conflict since he took up his post in 2015.
A series of incidents in recent days, including two infiltrations, one by three armed Arab terrorists who penetrated some 20 kilometers (12 miles) inside Israel, has already sent tensions soaring on the volatile frontier.
Friday's mass rallies near the border fence mark the start of more than six weeks of planned protests leading up to the inauguration of the new US embassy in Jerusalem around May 14.
US President Donald Trump's recognition of the disputed city as Israel's
capital in December sparked violent protests across the region.
Residents of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip are being urged to set up a string of protest camps along the Israeli border, each some 100 meters (yards) from the security fence, and the
army is braced for attempts to break through.
"We won't allow mass infiltration into Israel and damaging the fence, and certainly not allow anyone to reach our communities," Eizenkot told the Hebrew Yediot Aharonot newspaper.
"The instructions are to use a lot of force," he said.
"We've deployed more than 100 snipers who have been drafted from all the army's units, mainly from the special units. In the event of mortal danger, there is authorization to open fire."
Asked whether he feared a new conflict, Eizenkot said: "The chance of that happening is greater this year than it was in the first three years of my term.
"There are a lot of negative vectors in the region that are pushing towards a conflict."
Eizenkot gave a similar warning in a separate interview with left-wing newspaper Haaretz.
"An explosive, sensitive situation is developing in the entire Middle East, but especially among the Palestinians," he said.