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Army eases closure on West Bank hometown of Tel Aviv terrorists

Yatta residents, with the exception of Palestinians aged 15-25, allowed to leave; general entry ban over holiday ends

Israeli soldiers man a checkpoint at the entrance to the Palestinian village of Yatta in the southern West Bank on June 9, 2016. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers man a checkpoint at the entrance to the Palestinian village of Yatta in the southern West Bank on June 9, 2016. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces on Monday eased restrictions on the West Bank town of Yatta, days after closing it off in the wake of a deadly shooting in Tel Aviv by two gunmen from the town.

The easing of restrictions came as a general closure on the West Bank imposed over the Shavuot holiday was lifted.

On Monday, Yatta residents were permitted to enter and leave the village after undergoing inspection by the Israeli army, with the exception of Palestinians between the ages of 15 and 25, the Walla news website reported.

Troops had sealed off the village following Wednesday’s deadly shooting in central Tel Aviv, in which two Palestinian terrorists killed four people and wounded 16.

Meanwhile, a general closure on the West Bank and Gaza for the Shavuot holiday ended on Sunday night.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein on Friday criticized the blanket ban on Palestinian entry into Israel, saying it could be classed as “collective punishment” and therefore illegal under international law.

Such closures are often imposed by the army during Jewish holidays.

Wednesday’s shooting, carried out by Khalid and Muhammad Muhamra, 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.

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.

Israeli security forces at the scene of a deadly shooting attack at the Sarona Market shopping center in Tel Aviv, June 8, 2016. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Israeli security forces at the scene of a deadly shooting attack at the Sarona Market shopping center in Tel Aviv, June 8, 2016. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

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.

Over the weekend, the army also destroyed the Yatta home of the Palestinian teenager who stabbed and killed Dafna Meir, a mother of six, in her home in the settlement of Otniel.

On Thursday, the high-level security cabinet agreed to revoke work permits from family members of the Sarona 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.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan tours the site of a deadly terror attack in Tel Aviv on June 8, 2016 (Ben Kelmer/Flash90)
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan tours the site of a deadly terror attack in Tel Aviv on June 8, 2016 (Ben Kelmer/Flash90)

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.

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