IDF chief visits West Bank, police deploy in capital amid threats of violence
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Defense minister: 'We are ready for all developments'

IDF chief visits West Bank, police deploy in capital amid threats of violence

Terror groups call for 'rage' ahead ofTrump's expected recognition of capital, but army announces removal of barriers inside Hebron in light of relative calm

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, center, meets with other top officers in the West Bank on December 6, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, center, meets with other top officers in the West Bank on December 6, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot met with top military officers in the West Bank on Wednesday morning amid calls by terrorist groups for violence in the region over an expected American announcement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The heads of the IDF’s Central Command, its West Bank Division and its six regional brigades, along with Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, Israel’s chief military liaison to the Palestinians, presented a “situational assessment” to Eisenkot during his visit to the area, the army said.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said that Israeli forces “are ready for all developments,” but said that US President Donald Trump had yet to make his announcement on the issue of Jerusalem and so it would be premature to discuss potential violence.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman attends the weekly government meeting at the PM’s office in Jerusalem, on December 3, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

“Let’s wait for his statement. We will postpone this discussion until after his statement. As you know, Jerusalem and Israel — it’s a sensitive time and sensitive region,” Liberman said at a Jerusalem Post conference in the capital.

Trump is scheduled to address publicly the question of Jerusalem on Wednesday, and US officials familiar with his planning said he would declare Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and say he intends to relocate his country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Hamas terrorist group called for Palestinians to “make Friday a day of rage against the occupation, rejecting moving the American embassy to Jerusalem and declaring it the capital of the Zionist entity.”

That statement, along with others by Palestinian groups and on social media, raised concerns among Israeli security services of large-scale riots in the West Bank and East Jerusalem or terror attacks against Israeli civilians and troops, as have happened in the past in the wake of perceived changes to the status of Jerusalem.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, center-left, meets with other top officers during a tour of the West Bank on December 6, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

While security forces were preparing for the possibility of such violence, as of Wednesday afternoon that did not include dramatic moves like mass troop call-ups or the sending of significant reinforcements to West Bank units.

During his inspection of the area on a cold and rainy day, the IDF chief visited a number of settlements and was briefed on the “crossings, infrastructures and technologies that have been put in place to improve the security and quality of life in the area,” the military said in a statement.

Eisenkot praised “the way in which the soldiers were operating to carry out their complex mission in the area, with commitment, professionalism, and smarts,” the army said.

Illustrative. Police officers walking at the Western Wall plaza in the Old City of Jerusalem on September 13, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In Jerusalem, the Israel Police deployed widely throughout the city, including sites where violence is regularly expected.

“The Israel Police is prepared for an immediate operational response to a wide range of scenarios if necessary,” a police spokesperson said.

Apparently unrelated to the Jerusalem issue, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai also announced on Wednesday that next Tuesday, December 12, Israel would be removing a number of security barriers that it set up in areas of Hebron, specifically the Abu Sneina, Jabal Rahmah and Wadi al-Hariyeh neighborhoods.

Mordechai, whose formal title is Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, revealed the measure on social media, saying it was being taken in light of the paucity of violence coming out of those areas, ending his message with a hashtag in Arabic reading, “Stability breeds prosperity.”

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, center, speaks with the head of the Central Command, Maj. Gen. Roni Numa, left, and the chief military liaison to the Palestinians Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, center-left, during a tour of the West Bank on December 6, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

On Tuesday, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh warned that a decision by Trump to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and recognize the city as Israel’s capital would be a “dangerous escalation” that crosses “every red line.”

Political factions led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement also called for daily protest marches this week, starting Wednesday, and Fatah’s youth wing said “all options [are] open for defending Jerusalem.”

Palestinians in Gaza burned American and Israeli flags, along with pictures of Trump, in protest of his intentions to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and potentially move the embassy, despite intense Arab and Muslim opposition to a move that would alter decades of US policy and risk potentially violent protests.

Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz warned Tuesday that “violent protests would be a big mistake for the PA.”

“I suggest they don’t create security tensions and don’t lead down this road. We are ready for every possibility,” he said, according to the Ynet news website.

The US State Department on Tuesday ordered government employees to avoid Jerusalem’s Old City and the West Bank until further notice in anticipation of an outbreak of Palestinian violence.

Jerusalem’s Old City includes the holiest ground in Judaism. It is also home to Islam’s third-holiest shrine and major Christian sites, and is the combustible center of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Palestinian worshipers run for cover from teargas, fired by Israeli security forces, following prayers outside Jerusalem’s Old City in front of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound on July 21, 2017. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

Perceived harm to Muslim claims to the city has triggered volatile protests in the past, both in the Holy Land and across the Muslim world, most recently in July, when Israel set up metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount following a deadly terror attack there.

Within the Trump administration, officials on Tuesday were still debating the particulars of the president’s expected speech as they fielded a flood of warnings from allied governments.

With international pressure mounting, officials have said Trump could try to limit the impact of anything he says on Jerusalem. Among the ideas under consideration were a Trump nod to Palestinian “aspirations” for a capital in East Jerusalem or an endorsement of a two-state solution to the conflict, something he hasn’t clearly given. The officials said it was unclear if any of that might be included.

Raphael Ahren, Sue Surkes and the AP contributed to this report.

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