The Israeli military ordered the closure of several main highways along the Gaza border on Tuesday morning in a precautionary step against possible attacks from the coastal enclave, hours after the arrest of a senior member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group in the West Bank.
The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that the decision was made following a situational assessment during which the army identified an uptick in activity by fighters tied to Islamic Jihad that posed “a direct threat of a possible attack on Israeli civilians.”
The closed highways included Route 4 from Zikim Junction to the Erez Crossing; Route 34 from Yad Mordechai Junction to Nir Am Junction; and Route 232 from Nir Am Junction to the Kerem Shalom Crossing; and the access roads for farmers west of Route 232.
The army also shut Zikim Beach near the Gaza border and began blocking traffic between Ashkelon and Sderot.
It also closed off several sites that overlook the Strip, including the Sderot lookout and nearby Asaf Siboni observation site, the Black Arrow memorial and Givat Nizmit lookout near Mefalsim, and the Horseman Hill outside Kibbutz Nir Am. In 2018, an army bus was hit by an anti-tank guided missile at the Black Arrow site.
Relatedly, the IDF also closed the Erez Crossing for pedestrians going in and out of Gaza. The border checkpoint is used by thousands of Palestinian workers every day.
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Israel Railways announced that trains would cease running between the southern towns of Ashkelon and Netivot and that the nearby Sderot station would also be temporarily closed.
The Prime Minister’s Office said Prime Minister Yair Lapid would hold an assessment on the situation with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, IDF chief Aviv Kohavi, Shin Bet security agency head Ronen Bar, National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata, Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and other officials.
Late Monday night, the IDF conducted a raid to arrest a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad official in the northern West Bank city of Jenin during which a Palestinian teen was killed. Islamic Jihad identified the teenager as Dirar al-Kafrayni, 17, and said he was a member of the group and “our heroic martyr.”
Bassem Saadi, the head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group in the West Bank, was taken in along with his son-in-law and aide, Ashraf al-Jada.
Some reports said Saadi was also shot and wounded during the incident. Later it was reported that he was hurt after being bitten by a military dog during his arrest, with a video being published of the event.
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According to the Shin Bet, Saadi, 61, has been jailed and released by Israel seven times over the years.
The Shin Bet said in recent months Saadi “worked even harder to restore PIJ activities, in which he was behind the creation of a significant military force of the organization in Samaria in general and in Jenin in particular,” referring to the northern West Bank.
“His presence was a significant factor in the radicalization of the organization’s operatives in the field,” the Shin Bet added.
In response, the Gaza-based Islamic Jihad announced in a statement that it was declaring a state of “alertness” and raising its fighters’ “readiness” following the arrest of Saadi.
A local wing of the Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for shooting at the Israeli troops operating in Jenin, and Israeli officials said troops returned fire at the gunmen who opened fire, hitting several of them.
The IDF and Border Police said a handgun, ammunition and cash were seized from Saadi and al-Jada during the operation. Al-Jada, a PIJ operative, was also previously jailed in Israel, according to the Shin Bet.
المجد للشهيد المقاتل ضرار الكفريني.. pic.twitter.com/mlAEarkfoS
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Jenin is widely seen as a hotbed of terrorist activity. Gunmen and other attackers who carried out several deadly terrorist attacks earlier this year came from the city and its refugee camp.
Tensions have remained high in the West Bank, as Israeli security forces stepped up arrest raids and operations following a deadly wave of terror attacks against Israelis that left 19 people dead earlier this year.
In separate pre-dawn raids across the West Bank, troops arrested 12 wanted Palestinians, with violent confrontations in some areas, the IDF said.
In the Far’a refugee camp, the IDF said that as troops detained two terror suspects, dozens of Palestinians opened fire and hurled stones, Molotov cocktails, and makeshift explosive devices at troops.
The IDF said troops returned fire, hitting some of the rioters and Palestinian gunmen. Palestinian media reports, citing the Red Crescent medical service said five were wounded, including one in serious condition.
No Israeli soldiers were hurt in the operations, according to officials.
Last week, two Palestinian gunmen were killed in an Israeli military raid in the northern West Bank city of Nablus.