Israel will close off the West Bank and Gaza Strip for 48 hours beginning Friday, amid fears of attacks by the Hamas terror group during the Jewish holiday of Passover, which begins Friday night, the army announced Thursday.
The closure will begin at 12:00 a.m. on Friday and is expected to end at 11:59 p.m. on Saturday, the army said. However, the reopening will be subjected to a “situational assessment.”
Entering and exiting the West Bank and Gaza will be forbidden for Palestinians during those two days, with the exception of “humanitarian, medical and exceptional cases,” according to an IDF statement.
Those special cases will require the approval of the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of the Government’s Activities in the Territories.
According to Israeli media, security services have “warnings, although not concrete,” of plans for terror attacks in the coming days.
On Monday, a Hamas terror cell carried out a suicide bombing attack on a Jerusalem city bus, security forces revealed on Thursday as a gag order on the case was partially lifted.
Several members of the cell responsible were arrested in the Bethlehem area, following the attack.
The bomber who placed the explosive device on board the number 12 bus in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem was identified by the Shin Bet security agency as Abed al-Hamid Abu Srour, 19, from Beit Jala, near the West Bank city of Bethlehem.
He was one of 21 people injured in the attack. Abu Srour was severely wounded and died of his injuries on Wednesday.
Last month, the army imposed a similar shut-down on the West Bank’s checkpoints for Palestinians ahead of the Purim holiday, also for fear of terror attacks, the army said.
Though closures of this type are not necessarily used for every holiday, they are not unheard of during periods of heightened security threats.
No such closure was imposed on the West Bank and Gaza during the beginning of Passover last year, but there were shut-downs in the preceding four years.
The closure will affect the thousands of Palestinians who legally work in Israel every day, most of them in construction and maintenance. However, as the closure will be in place during a holiday weekend, the impact should be lesser than if it were mid-week.
Within the West Bank, Palestinians will be able to enter Jewish settlements to work during the closure, an army spokesperson said.
Monday’s attack marked the first suicide bombing in the wave of Palestinian terrorism that erupted last October. Hitherto, the attacks — stabbings, shootings and car-rammings — had been characterized as “lone wolf” incidents. Hamas has been encouraging attacks on Israelis, and several plots are said to have been thwarted by security forces.
On Thursday night, Israel’s Channel 10 showed celebrations in Al-Ayda, the refugee camp in the Bethlehem area of the West Bank where Monday’s teenage bomber lived. Youths there chanted that there would be more attacks, and candies were handed out in celebration of the bombing.
While Israel faces the prospect of a new Hamas bid to carry out major terror attacks against its population, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot maintains that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is making a real effort to fight terrorism. Abbas’s Fatah movement, which was ejected from the Gaza Strip by Hamas in a bloody 2007 coup, is in control of the West Bank, where Hamas is apparently making an effort to foster terrorism. According to Channel 2, Eisenkot praised the PA for its increased effort in clamping down on terrorist activity.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report