After 5-day lull, IDF carries out West Bank raids despite tensions with PA

No clashes reported between Israeli troops and Palestinian security forces during arrest operation, hinting at continuing tacit coordination

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

Israeli security forces arrest suspected PFLP members as part of a broad crackdown on the terror group in the West Bank, in an undated photograph released on December 17, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
Illustrative. Israeli security forces arrest suspected PFLP members as part of a broad crackdown on the terror group in the West Bank, in an undated photograph released on December 17, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli security forces arrested seven Palestinian suspects in the West Bank in predawn raids on Wednesday morning, the first such operations since the Palestinian Authority said it had frozen a vital security coordination mechanism.

The overnight operation followed a five-day lull that partially coincided with the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

The Palestinian Authority said last week that it was cutting all security ties with Israel in light of the government’s proposal to annex the Jordan Valley and Israeli settlements, in a move expected to increase tensions and possibly lead to potentially dangerous conflicts between Israeli and Palestinian forces.

Despite the PA’s assertions that it was no longer abiding by its agreements with Israel, no clashes were reported between Palestinian security forces and the Israeli troops, indicating that some degree of coordination between the two was ongoing.

The Israel Defense Forces said troops arrested seven suspects in overnight raids. According to Palestinian media, five of them were from the Ramallah area and two from Tulkarem in the northern West Bank.

In some cases, rocks and other objects were thrown at the Israeli troops’ vehicles by residents of the area.

These were the first predawn arrest raids conducted by the IDF since Friday, when two people were detained from the city of Yabed outside Jenin.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas heads a leadership meeting at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 19, 2020 (Alaa Badarneh/Pool via AP)

This lull in arrests, ordinarily a near-nightly occurrence, followed PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s announcement that his government was halting coordination with Israel — a threat he has made several times in the past, but one he appeared to be going through with to a certain extent. He said the move was in response to Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank starting this summer.

Though not widely discussed publicly, Israel’s cooperation with Palestinian security forces has been credited with thwarting many major terror attacks and being a significant factor in the relative calm in the West Bank in recent years.

On Monday, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said the PA would prevent widespread chaos and public disorder in the West Bank despite the severance of ties. Israel’s security establishment, however, fears that the Hamas terror group will exploit the escalating tensions to step up its activities in the West Bank.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to extend Israeli sovereignty over areas of the West Bank, and reportedly informed his Likud lawmakers Monday he had no intention of changing a planned July 1 date to begin the process, despite worries of violence and international condemnation.

On Tuesday, Army Radio reported that Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians warned the IDF chief of staff and defense minister of a potential wave of violence if the government goes through with its plans to unilaterally annex portions of the West Bank.

Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. (Courtesy)

According to the station, Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun — formally known as the coordinator of government activities in the territories — told IDF chief Aviv Kohavi and Defense Minister Benny Gantz that annexation “was likely to lead to a wave of terror attacks and a breaking of security cooperation [with the Palestinian Authority].”

The IDF and Defense Ministry refused to comment on the report, saying they would not discuss the contents of conversation held behind closed doors.

Abu Rukun’s reported comments were the latest in a series of warnings by defense officials regarding a potential outbreak of Palestinian violence in response to annexation of Israeli settlements and the Jordan Valley, as the government has proposed to do.

Netanyahu’s vow to go through with annexation has led to condemnations from a growing list on countries, including Arab states such as Jordan and European nations like France and Germany.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference in Tel Aviv, September 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The annexation move would be coordinated with the US, in accordance with the Middle East plan US President Donald Trump unveiled in January, which endorsed extending Israeli sovereignty over roughly 30 percent of the West Bank.

But in recent days even Trump administration officials have appeared to seek to dampen expectations that Washington will quickly green-light the move without any progress in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The US State Department’s chief spokesperson said earlier this month that any action should be part of discussions between Israel and the Palestinians on the Trump administration’s peace plan.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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