Amid terror warnings, security forces begin to patch holes in West Bank barrier
IDF deploys additional engineering troops to ‘seam zone’ to fix fence, dig trenches to prevent crossing of vehicles; Israel on high alert ahead of Passover
Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.
Engineering work began Wednesday to seal gaps in the West Bank security barrier used by Palestinians to enter Israel illegally, defense officials said.
The army said it was fixing up holes over dozens of kilometers of the fence and was digging trenches to prevent vehicles from crossing through the so-called “seam zone” area along the West Bank security barrier.
In addition, other efforts were being made to strengthen defenses along the barrier, the IDF said.
The work started following several deadly terror attacks in Israel, including two in which terrorists from the northern West Bank entered Israel via large holes in the barrier. Forces have been put on high alert for more attacks in the run-up to the Passover holiday, and have been carrying out raids near Jenin to crack down on alleged terror activity.
According to Hebrew-language media reports, Israeli officials had “live” intel regarding several alleged terror attacks planned for the Jewish festival, which begins Friday night. Security forces were working to foil the plans, including a raid near Ramallah Wednesday night reportedly aimed at thwarting a large attack planned for Jerusalem.
The IDF has dispatched thousands of troops in recent weeks to the seam zone area — a swath of West Bank land on the Israeli side of the barrier — to prevent Palestinians from crossing into Israel. Though some of the barrier is a concrete wall, much of it is just fencing.
In recent years thousands of Palestinians would enter Israel every day through the gaps in the fence for work, but the IDF has vowed to clamp down after several terror attacks were committed by Palestinians who used the gaps to reach Israeli cities. including one who crossed the border with a vehicle.
“Our task is to close the seam zone in a way that will not allow illegal passage,” IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi said from the scene of the engineering work Wednesday.
“We will continue to operate in any place, with any method, and to the extent necessary to thwart terror. In recent days, we have significantly strengthened the area with forces and engineering means in order to improve the barrier’s infrastructure,” he added.
On Wednesday, the army sent another three heavy machinery companies, as well as reservist troops from the IDF’s Combat Engineering Corp for the efforts.
The announcement comes a day after Defense Minister Benny Gantz said his office was working on plans to allow tens of thousands more Palestinian workers into Israel legally.
Ministers also approved earlier this week NIS 300 million ($93 million) in funding to upgrade a 40-kilometer stretch of the barrier in the northern West Bank. This was separate from the army’s efforts that began Wednesday.
Tensions have risen sharply between Israel and the Palestinians in recent weeks against the backdrop of repeated terror attacks in Israeli cities that left 14 dead.
The escalation has come amid the Muslim holy month of Ramadan — often a period of high tension in Israel and the West Bank.
The army has stepped up its West Bank activities in an attempt to crack down on the spiraling violence. Overnight Tuesday and on Wednesday morning, at least 21 Palestinians suspected of terror activity were arrested by security forces.