IDF declares the area around Gaza a closed military zone

Unspecified military activity taking place around the Strip one month after army destroyed cross-border attack tunnel

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Israeli soldiers patrol close to the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip on October 30, 2017, near Kibbutz Kissufim in southern Israel. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)
Israeli soldiers patrol close to the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip on October 30, 2017, near Kibbutz Kissufim in southern Israel. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

The army has declared the area surrounding the Gaza Strip a “closed military zone” in light of unspecified activities in the area, the military censor cleared for publication on Sunday.

The nature of the military activity in the area and the exact location of the closures were not allowed to be published.

The army said there were no new special instructions for Israeli residents of the Gaza border region, though existing orders keeping farmers away from certain areas along the border remain in place.

The closures come a little over a month after the military destroyed an attack tunnel belonging to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, which entered Israeli territory from the Gaza city of Khan Younis.

On Thursday, the Islamic Jihad launched a dozen mortar shells at an army post northeast of the Strip, causing no injuries but did damage army equipment.

Smoke billows from a Palestinian Islamic Jihad position near Gaza City after Israeli aircraft bombed it on November 30, 2017, in retaliation to a mortar attack that targeted Israeli troops northeast of the Gaza Strip earlier in the day. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The military retaliated with six strikes on terrorist positions in Gaza, four of them belonging to the Islamic Jihad and two to Hamas, which rules the coastal enclave.

Following last week’s exchange of fire, the army temporarily stopped construction on the underground barrier being built around the Gaza Strip in an effort to counter attack tunnels, an IDF officer said on Thursday.

The army said the Islamic Jihad attack appeared to be retaliation for the army demolishing the group’s attack tunnel exactly a month earlier.

After the tunnel demolition on October 30, in which at least 14 terrorists were killed, including two of Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s top commanders, the group vowed revenge.

Terrorists from the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine attend the funeral of fellow members killed in an Israeli operation to blow up a tunnel stretching from the Gaza Strip into Israel during their funeral at the Bureij refugee camp, in central Gaza, on October 31, 2017. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

The Islamic Jihad said the tunnel was supposed to be used for “kidnapping soldiers in order to free prisoners [from Israeli prisons].”

According to the army, the tunnel had been under surveillance the entire time that it was inside Israeli territory and did not pose a threat to civilians.

Israeli officials told the terror group not to go through with its plans to retaliate. In the weeks following, the army also kept farmers away from the fence and, in a dramatic move, deployed Iron Dome missile defense batteries in central Israel, including in the greater Tel Aviv area.

The army said later that killing the terrorists was not the primary objective of the tunnel demolition.

The bodies of five of the terrorists who were working on the tunnel inside Israeli territory were recovered by the IDF, the army said.

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