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5 Palestinians enter Israel from Gaza with knives, are arrested

Army says suspects picked up shortly after crossing security fence around southern Strip, handed over to Shin Bet for questioning

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Knives and a wire cutter found in possession of Palestinians who crossed into Israel from the the Gaza Strip on February 3, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces/Twitter)
Knives and a wire cutter found in possession of Palestinians who crossed into Israel from the the Gaza Strip on February 3, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces/Twitter)

The military arrested five Palestinians who crossed into Israel from the southern Gaza Strip on Sunday morning, the army said.

The suspects were arrested as they approached the security fence surrounding the coastal enclave, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Initially, the military said the men were not found to be in possession of weapons. But upon further searches in the field, the suspects were later found to have been armed with a number of knives and a pair of wire cutters, the army said.

“The suspects did not damage the security fence,” the army said.

The five were handed over to the Shin Bet security service for questioning.

In the West Bank, Israeli security forces arrested nine Palestinian suspects over the weekend, the army said.

The suspects were believed to be involved in terrorist activities, riots and low-level attacks like rock throwing, the IDF said.

They too were handed over to the Shin Bet for questioning.

Residents of the Gaza Strip have been known to seek to flee the Hamas-controlled beleaguered enclave by crossing into Israeli territory. In some cases, they bring along knives and other weapons with the intention of being caught by the IDF and sent to prison, preferring incarceration in Israel to life in Gaza.

In such cases, the Israeli military generally returns the Palestinians to the Gaza Strip.

The relatively large-scale breach of the Gaza border fence on Sunday came amid heightened tensions between Israel and Hamas.

In recent days, Israel reportedly warned Hamas that it would launch a military campaign unless violence along the Gaza border ends, irrespective of the upcoming April 9 election.

The message to the terror group was sent via mediators, including Egypt, Channel 12 (previously Hadashot) news reported Saturday night.

“Israel can make tough decisions during elections and is not afraid of a military campaign,” Israel said in the message sent on Thursday.

A Palestinian throws back a tear gas canister toward Israeli forces during clashes on the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on January 25, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Earlier on Saturday, Egypt reportedly agreed to permanently reopen its border crossing with the Gaza Strip if Hamas restrains clashes with Israeli troops.

The Rafah crossing was closed in early January after the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority withdrew its employees there, though it was reopened in both directions on Tuesday.

On Friday, Egypt’s offer was relayed to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh during a meeting in Gaza with Egyptian intelligence officials and UN’s Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov, according to Ynet news site.

Quoting unnamed Palestinian sources, the report said that reopening the crossing  on a permanent basis was intended as a concession to Hamas to curb violent protests along the border.

Speaking at the opening of a mosque on Friday in Gaza City, Haniyeh did not comment on the reported offer, but called the trilateral meeting “unprecedented.”

“Gaza is… an area of political interest because what is happening in Gaza affects the general Palestinian scene and what happens, and what will happen, in Gaza affects our region,” he said before returning to talks with UN and Egyptian officials.

Palestinians protest against the closure of the Rafah crossing point between Egypt and the southern Gaza Strip and the Israeli blockade on the territory, on January 24, 2019 in Rafah. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

For the past several months, Egypt, the UN and Qatar have worked to preserve calm in Gaza and prevent flareups between Israel and terror groups in the Strip.

Since last March, the Gaza border has seen large-scale weekly clashes on Fridays, smaller protests along the northern Gaza border on Tuesdays, as well as periodic flareups between the Israeli military and Palestinian terror organizations.

On Friday, the IDF said some 10,000 Palestinians took part in violent protests along the border, burning tires and hurling rocks and explosive devices at Israeli soldiers. Troops responded to the demonstrators with tear gas and live fire.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said 23 protesters were injured by live fire in the clashes; a female paramedic had been hit in the face with a tear gas canister.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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