Following violent weekend, Israel imposes planned West Bank closure over holiday
Four Palestinians killed in clashes, attempted attacks over weekend; more than 50 arrested as Jerusalem simmers following week of riots; officials warn of settler attacks
Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.
The Israeli military will shut down crossings between the West Bank and Israel for Palestinians during the final day of the Sukkot holiday, as forces were already on high alert following a violent weekend.
The closure, which also includes crossings with the Gaza Strip, was to begin on Sunday at 4:00 p.m. and end on Monday at 11:59 p.m. The border crossings were set to reopen “subject to a situational assessment and in accordance with the usual operating hours,” the Israel Defense Forces said.
Exceptions will be made for humanitarian and other outstanding cases, but will require the approval of the liaison, known as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.
Such closures are standard practice during Jewish festivals and holidays. The military says they are a preventative measure against attacks during periods of increased tension.
Also Sunday, Prime Minister Yair Lapid held two security consultations in Tel Aviv amid the spiraling violence.
In the first meeting, Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett took part, while Defense Minister Benny Gantz and the security chiefs were present at the second, officials said. The meetings on the eve of a festival were considered unusual.
Over the weekend, four Palestinians were killed and several more were wounded in separate clashes and gun battles with Israeli troops.
One of those killed was a gunman affiliated with the Hamas terror group, after he opened fire on the settlement of Beit El, lightly injuring an Israeli man.
In another incident Sunday, the IDF said Palestinians hurled an explosive device from a passing vehicle at troops near the city of Nablus in the northern West Bank.
Soldiers returned fire at the car and the suspects fled, according to the military. The IDF said troops found another IED in the abandoned vehicle.
Israel imposed a closure on Nablus earlier this week, not long after an Israeli soldier was killed in a shooting attack claimed by an armed faction.
Some routes were left open, through which Palestinians may enter and leave Nablus following “a strict security check.”
On Sunday, COGAT revoked the entry permits to Israel from 164 relatives of members of the armed group, which calls itself “Lion’s Den.”
The IDF and police have been on heightened alert since late last month amid the Jewish holiday season, with tensions already high due to an Israeli anti-terror offensive that has seen over 100 Palestinians killed and more than 2,000 arrested in nightly raids in the West Bank.
The northern West Bank has seen a surge in violence in recent months, with Palestinian gunmen targeting military posts, troops operating along the West Bank security barrier, Israeli settlements, and civilians on the roads.
The UN Middle East envoy said he held “constructive meetings” on Saturday with “key figures” in the northern West Bank cities of Nablus and Jenin, in a bid to restore calm.
Tor Wennesland, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said he “discussed the deteriorating security situation [and] how to restore hope for a political solution.”
“Important to deescalate tensions [and] focus on concrete [and] durable steps that will improve the situation,” he added in a post on Twitter.
While the unrest spread to Jerusalem last week after an Israeli soldier was killed while guarding a checkpoint near the Shuafat refugee camp, the capital appeared to lower to a simmer over the weekend, with few violent incidents.
For several nights, Palestinians in East Jerusalem clashed with police and civilians over heavy police activity in Shuafat amid searches for the alleged gunman who apparently was hiding in the area — and remains at large.
Police on Friday morning mobilized four reserve companies to the capital, anticipating further unrest.
According to law enforcement officials, more than 50 people have been arrested — including several Jewish Israelis — for alleged rioting in Jerusalem over the past week.
In the West Bank, security officials warned of a rise in settler attacks against Palestinians, which mostly have occurred in the Huwara area in the northern West Bank, close to Nablus.
In recent weeks, Palestinians have hurled stones at Israeli vehicles driving through the area, leading settlers to attack Palestinian civilians, homes and storefronts in response.
Huwara has long been a flashpoint in the West Bank, as it is just about the only Palestinian town through which Israelis regularly travel in order to reach settlements in the northern West Bank.
Footage has also shown Israeli soldiers standing alongside settlers as they attacked Palestinians in Huwara.
In a message to residents, the nearby settlement of Har Bracha condemned the attacks by the settlers.
“As a result of a riot by several dozen Jewish rioters in Huwara, there was a flare-up in the village and many stone-throwings. Their rioting worsens the very complex situation we are in, and makes driving on the road unbearable,” the message read.
It added that it has asked law enforcement to “deal with this violent gang.”
The military launched its major arrest operations after a series of Palestinian attacks that killed 19 people between mid-March and the beginning of May.
In arrest raids across the West Bank early Sunday, troops detained six wanted Palestinians and seized weapons and ammunition, the IDF said.