Israel’s Defense Ministry said it was freezing tens of thousands of permits given to Palestinians to travel to Israel during the Muslim Ramadan holy month Thursday, and was also taking other punitive measures, in the wake of a terror attack in central Tel Aviv that killed four people.
Eighty-three thousand permits for Palestinians from the West Bank to visit family in Israel or the Temple Mount in Jerusalem were rescinded overnight Wednesday, according to the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories, the Defense Ministry unit which manages civilian affairs in the West Bank. Permits for 500 people from the Gaza Strip to attend Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque were also revoked.
Four people were killed and 16 more injured when two Palestinian terrorists opened fire inside a restaurant in the Sarona Market shopping complex in central Tel Aviv on Wednesday night. The two gunmen, who hailed from the Palestinian town of Yatta in the southern West Bank, were caught shortly after the attack.
Three of the victims remained in intensive care Thursday morning at nearby Ichilov Hospital, along with one of the attackers who was shot by a security guard, according to a hospital spokesperson.
On Thursday, the Israel Defense Forces imposed a closure on Yatta “in accordance with a security assessment,” the army said.
No one will be allowed in or out of the Palestinian village in the Hebron Hills, “except for humanitarian cases,” the IDF said.
The two suspects were named in Palestinian media reports as Muhammad and Khalid Muhamra. One of the men was shot by a security guard and seriously injured, the second was arrested by police and taken in for questioning.
Hamas said in a message Thursday morning that the two men were members of the terror group.
In addition to freezing permits to enter Israel, permission was also revoked for 200 Gaza residents who had received authorization to visit relatives in the West Bank during Ramadan, and 500 Palestinians from the West Bank who had planned to visit family in Gaza.
Travel permits for 300 Palestinians living abroad to visit relatives in Gaza, and 500 West Bank Palestinians to travel out of Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv were also annulled.
The ministry also froze 204 regular work permits for members of the shooters’ family, COGAT said.
The moves followed an announcement last week that Israel would ease restrictions on Palestinian movement during Ramadan, as has been done in years past.
Visiting the scene of the attack late Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed “decisive action” to track down those responsible for the third deadly attack in the city this year.
He is slated to convene his top level security cabinet Thursday morning, including newly installed Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.
While Liberman’s predecessor Moshe Ya’alon had steadfastly maintained a policy of making sure clamp-downs in the wake of attacks did not affect innocent Palestinian civilians, its not clear how the more hard-line Liberman will react.
“We’re in the middle of a complex period,” Netanyahu told reporters after meeting with the heads of Israel’s security forces in the army’s headquarters in Tel Aviv, referring to both the month of Ramadan and the upcoming Jewish holiday of Shavuot.
“We will act decisively and intelligently,” Netanyahu said, vowing “determined action by the police, IDF and security agencies to locate all collaborators who took part in this murder, and to prevent future attacks.”
The attackers, both 21-year-old men dresses in suits and ties and carrying makeshift firearms, entered Israel illegally, but had no criminal record.
The IDF raided the home of one of the terrorists and interrogated the family, Walla news reported. Israeli security agencies were working to determine how they entered Israel from the West Bank.
The month-long Ramadan holiday, which began on Sunday night, has often been a time of increased conflict between Muslim Palestinians and Israel.
Wednesday’s attack was the second deadly shooting and third deadly terror attack in Tel Aviv in six months.
In January, 29-year-old Nashat Milhem of the northern Israeli Arab town of Arara opened fire outside a bar on Tel Aviv’s busy Dizengoff Street, killing two Israelis. After fleeing, Milhem killed Bedouin taxi driver Ayman Shaaban some 60 minutes later. Milhem was killed in a shootout with police days later while hiding out in a building in his hometown.
In a stabbing spree in the city’s Jaffa neighborhood in March, 22-year-old Palestinian Bashar Massalha killed US citizen Taylor Force and injured 10 others in a rampage along the Jaffa boardwalk. He was killed by security forces during the attack.
Since October, 33 Israelis and four others have been killed and hundreds more injured in the spate of attacks, though the violence had dramatically waned of late. Some 200 Palestinians have also been killed, some two-thirds of them while carrying out attacks and the rest in clashes with troops, Israeli officials say.
The violence was triggered in part by tensions over the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, which sits atop the flashpoint Temple Mount, the site of the two Jewish temples in biblical times. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the site, but not pray there.
While the attacks had largely abated in recent week, a ban remains in place on Israeli lawmakers — both Muslim and Jewish — from visiting the site, to prevent tensions from flaring. Muslim MKs from the Joint (Arab) List, however, informed the Knesset last month that they intend to pray at the site during Ramadan, regardless of the ban.
AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.