IDF closes roads near Gaza over fears of revenge attack

IDF closes roads near Gaza over fears of revenge attack

Military cites recent threats, evacuation of Hamas outposts as driving decision to block highways near the Strip

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

Illustrative. A police car blocks traffic along southern Israel's Route 34 highway because of a fire in the area on June 4, 2018. (Oshri Tzimmer)
Illustrative. A police car blocks traffic along southern Israel's Route 34 highway because of a fire in the area on June 4, 2018. (Oshri Tzimmer)

The military closed off a highway in southern Israel on Wednesday out of concerns that the Hamas terrorist group in the Gaza Strip may open fire at Israeli vehicles as revenge for an exchange the day before in which the army killed two Hamas members.

The military said the decision to close Route 25 and several smaller service roads near the border was made in light of recent threats by Hamas and after IDF soldiers saw that the terror group had begun abandoning several of its positions in the Strip — a move Hamas generally takes as a precaution before carrying out attacks against Israel.

“In light of Hamas statements and the evacuation of Hamas outposts, the Southern Command decided to increase readiness and to close a number of roadways in the Gaza periphery,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

Route 25 is the main highway leading to the Israeli community of Kibbutz Nahal Oz, located just outside the Gaza Strip. Residents of the area were told to use alternate routes.

“Besides this, there are no special instructions for the home front,” the army said.

On Tuesday, an IDF tank shelled a Hamas observation post along the Gaza border, killing two of the terror group’s fighters, after IDF soldiers nearby mistakenly believed shots had been fired at them.

The army later confirmed that the gunshots were not fired at the soldiers, but were part of a Hamas training exercise inside the Strip. The IDF defended its decision to attack the observation post, telling the Haaretz newspaper that the shelling was justified given the information it had at the time.

Hamas vowed to avenge its fallen members, saying it will not allow Israel to “impose a policy of bombing sites and targeting fighters without paying the price.”

According to Channel 10 news, the army conveyed messages to Hamas via Egypt acknowledging the error, but insisting that retaliatory fire on IDF troops would not be tolerated.

On Wednesday, the military said it would work to prevent any attacks against Israeli citizens by Hamas.

“The IDF will act to ensure the security of residents of the [Gaza] area and will not allow civilians and IDF soldiers to be harmed. The IDF is prepared for a variety of scenarios,” the army said Wednesday.

Hamas said the two dead men were snipers who participated in the drill, Ahmad Marjan and Abd al-Hafiz al-Silawi, both 23. Another six were injured in the Israeli strike, Palestinian media reported.

The IDF released footage it said showed the Hamas men firing and the shell hitting the post.

Earlier Wednesday, rocket sirens sounded in Israeli communities adjacent to the Gaza Strip, sending thousands of residents running to bomb shelters in what the military later said was a false alarm. The alarm systems were triggered shortly before 10 a.m. in the city of Sderot and communities in the Sha’ar Hanegev region of southern Israel.

The Israel Defense Forces did not specify what caused the false alarm. In the past, such events have been triggered by large-caliber gunfire near the border, which the military’s sensitive detection systems misidentify as rocket fire.

The flareup came amid reports that Israel and Hamas could be nearing a truce that would see a halt in the cross-border attacks and the easing of the blockade of the Strip.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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