Gantz warns Palestinians that Ramadan gestures ‘threatened by terrorism’

Defense minister says easing of restrictions during Muslim holy month depends on ‘security situation,’ following attacks in Israel, deadly shootouts in West Bank

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz wishes Palestinians a Ramadan Kareem in a video statement, on April 2, 2022. (Screenshot/Facebook)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz wishes Palestinians a Ramadan Kareem in a video statement, on April 2, 2022. (Screenshot/Facebook)

In a message addressed to Palestinians as Ramadan began Saturday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said any easing of restrictions during the Muslim holy month would depend “on the security situation.”

“At the beginning of the month of Ramadan, I would like to wish a Ramadan Kareem to all Palestinians in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip,” Gantz said in a video message on the military liaison’s Facebook page.

“Unfortunately, we are in a difficult period of terror attacks on the citizens of Israel, a reality we can not accept, and we are working against it with force and determination,” he added.

“We are currently examining what steps we can take towards Ramadan, to allow you to celebrate the holiday in the best possible way, while first and foremost maintaining security.”

A series of deadly terror attacks killed 11 people in Israel in a week, including a shooting in which five people were killed on Tuesday, putting Israeli security forces on heightened alert. The escalation has come as the at the start of Ramadan — often a period of high tension in Israel and the West Bank.

On Saturday, three members of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad cell were shot dead by troops in the northern West Bank village of Arraba, near Jenin, as they were allegedly en route to commit an attack in Israel.

IDF soldiers are seen operating in the West Bank, in an image published by the military, on April 2, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

On Thursday, at least two Palestinian gunmen were killed in a firefight with Israeli troops when commandos entered Jenin in a rare daytime raid as part of a large-scale anti-terror operation following the recent attacks. At least 14 other Palestinians were wounded in the incident and dozens were arrested in the operation.

The IDF said the arrest operation — dubbed “Breakwater” — targeted individuals suspected of planning future attacks, as well as some thought to be tied to Tuesday’s deadly attack in Bnei Brak. Additionally, a Palestinian from Hebron was detained for alleged affiliation with Islamic State.

In response, the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group threatened to escalate violence against Israel.

On Saturday, Gantz said Israel had been holding talks with the Palestinian Authority in order to implement moves “aimed at improving the quality of life and the economy” in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“Advancing these moves are threatened by terrorism, and only if peace and security stability return, can we continue to work on them,” Gantz said.

“We want [these moves], I’m sure most Palestinians are interested in them too,” he added.

Palestinians attend Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, on April 1, 2022. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

The moves themselves were not detailed, but last week, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced that the government would increase the number of permits for Gazans to work in Israel by an additional 8,000, bringing the total to 20,000 permits for the Hamas-controlled territory, which has seen one of its quietest periods in over a year.

Additionally, cabinet ministers decided Wednesday to push ahead with plans to ease restrictions for Palestinians during Ramadan, while ordering the bolstering of police and counter-terror efforts.

Some ministers had suggested Israel place the West Bank on lockdown or take other measures to restrict Palestinian access to Jerusalem’s Old City, but ultimately no extra restrictions were imposed.

An Israeli official said Israel will issue additional entry permits for elderly Muslim worshipers to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, expand the hours of such permits, and implement other measures aimed at easing freedom of movement for Palestinians.

Last May, tensions around Ramadan and an 11-day conflict with the Gaza Strip escalated into the worst rioting in decades between the Jewish and Arab communities. Arab Israeli leaders have condemned the recent terror attacks.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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