The Israeli army late Thursday announced it was sealing off the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the Shavuot holiday, beginning overnight Thursday-Friday through late Sunday night.
The closure, which comes a day after two Palestinian terrorists killed four people and wounded 16 in a shooting attack in central Tel Aviv, will not bar Palestinians who have permits from visiting the Temple Mount for Friday Ramadan prayers, the army said.
The military said it would make exceptions for medical emergencies and humanitarian cases, with the approval of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).
The Shavuot holiday begins Saturday night and ends Sunday night. While the move is among a slew of measures imposed in response to the deadly terror attack at the Sarona Market, the army generally seals off the West Bank on Jewish holidays.
Wednesday’s shooting, carried out by two West Bank Palestinians, was among the deadliest and most brazen attacks since violence erupted last September. Tel Aviv’s Sarona district, a popular shopping and restaurant area, was packed with people enjoying a warm evening outdoors when it was targeted late Wednesday. Four Israelis were killed.
In Israel’s initial response to the shooting, COGAT, an Israeli defense body, said early Thursday that it had frozen 83,000 permits for Palestinians in the West Bank to visit relatives in Israel during the current Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Special Ramadan permits were also suspended for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to travel out of the territory to attend prayers at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
The army also announced that it had deployed two additional battalions — comprising hundreds of troops from infantry and special forces units — to the West Bank.
On Thursday, the high-level security cabinet agreed to revoke work permits from family members of the terrorists. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced that Israel would stop returning the bodies of Palestinian attackers to their families for burial.
During the meeting, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan also called unequivocally to stop returning the bodies of attackers to their families and to reestablish a cemetery where such remains were buried by Israeli authorities up until about a decade ago — a proposal Liberman reportedly said he was not opposed to.
According to a source who spoke to the Haaretz daily, Erdan said that Israel should renew the policy that prevailed during the Second Intifada, and bury the remains of Palestinians killed while carrying out attacks in a special cemetery rather than return them to their families.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked the National Security Council to form a committee to examine the issue.
During the three-hour-long meeting, Liberman also asked Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit if it would be possible to expedite the legal process for destroying attackers’ homes.
“We should be leveling [their] homes withing 24 hours. Why is that not happening?” Liberman asked Mandelblit, who responded that Israel was governed by the rule of law and that due process took longer than that.
While Israel has formally adopted the controversial policy of destroying the homes of Palestinian attackers, even if their families are living there, as a deterrent measure, fewer than a dozen demolitions have been carried out over the eight-month wave of terror attacks that began in October.
According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, work to plug the gaps in the security fence in the Tarkumiya-Meitar area south of Hebron, through which the two terrorists from the attack are believed to have entered Israel, will begin on June 28 and the budget has already been allocated.
Israel has also deployed additional forces to the area until the work is completed, the PMO said.
The two terrorists were named in Palestinian media reports as Muhammad and Khalid Muhamra. One of the men was shot by a security guard after the attack and was seriously injured; the second was arrested by police and taken in for questioning. Both came from the West Bank town of Yatta, south of Hebron.
IDF troops surrounded the town early Thursday morning and security forces raided the home of one of the terrorists and interrogated the family. Israeli security agencies were working to determine how they entered Israel from the West Bank.