IDF believes Islamic Jihad readying imminent attacks

IDF reopens some Gaza-area roads, still on alert for PIJ response to member’s arrest

After reports said senior Islamic Jihad operative was bitten by military dog during his arrest, IDF leaks images showing him in good condition in bid to calm tensions

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

Israeli soldiers block roads near the border with the Gaza Strip on August 2, 2022. (Flash90)
Israeli soldiers block roads near the border with the Gaza Strip on August 2, 2022. (Flash90)

The military’s level of alert along the border with the Gaza Strip remained high Tuesday afternoon, though several roads closed earlier as a precautionary step were reopened, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The roads were shut due to fears of possible attacks from the coastal enclave in response to the arrest of the West Bank head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group on Monday night.

Bassem Saadi was taken in by forces in Jenin along with his son-in-law and aide, Ashraf al-Jada, and another member of the terror group was killed in a gun battle with troops.

Palestinian reports said Saadi was hurt after being bitten by a military dog during his arrest.

The IDF later leaked images to reporters seeming to show Saadi in good condition, with the aim of calming tensions.

In response to Saadi’s arrest, the Gaza-based group announced in a statement that it was declaring a state of “alertness” and raising its fighters’ “readiness.”

The West Bank head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, Bassem Saadi, is seen shortly after his arrest by Israeli troops on August 2, 2022. (Courtesy)

On Tuesday morning, the IDF said it ordered the closure of several main highways, train lines and lookout points along the Gaza border, following an uptick in activity by fighters tied to Islamic Jihad that posed an imminent and “a direct threat of a possible attack on Israeli civilians.”

The imminent threats included possible anti-tank guided missile fire, sniper attacks, and rocket fire.

In the afternoon hours, the IDF issued an update to the road closures, saying Route 232 between Mefalsim and Sa’ad and access roads for farmers nearby were closed, but the road between Sa’ad and Kerem Shalom had been reopened for traffic.

Route 242 and 2410 were also shuttered, as were Route 4 from Zikim Junction toward the Erez Crossing, and Route 34 between Yad Mordechai Junction and Nir Am Junction.

All towns along the border have alternative routes to exit, apart from Kerem Shalom and Kibbutz Nahal Oz, which were entirely blockaded due to the restrictions.

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.

Israeli soldiers block roads near the border with the Gaza Strip on August 2, 2022. (Flash90)

Palestinian news outlet al-Watan Voice said Egyptian mediators were to step in to prevent the situation from escalating. Israel’s Channel 12 news said Israel passed threatening messages to Hamas via Egypt, for it to prevent the Islamic Jihad from attacking.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid was to hold a situational assessment 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.

Gantz, who toured the West Bank security barrier area with Kohavi on Tuesday, warned against attempts to harm Israelis. “Any threat to the citizens of Israel will be met with a powerful response and we will of course be prepared for any scenario,” he said.

Channel 12 also reported that Israeli troops were on high alert in the West Bank as well, amid the possibility Islamic Jihad would attempt an attack there.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi tour the West Bank on August 2, 2022. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

According to the Shin Bet, Saadi, 61, has been jailed and released by Israel seven times over the years.

The Shin Bet said that in recent months, Saadi had “worked even harder to restore PIJ activities, and was behind the creation of a significant military force for the organization in [the northern West Bank] in general and in Jenin in particular.

“His presence was a significant factor in the radicalization of the organization’s operatives in the field,” the Shin Bet added.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s leader in the West Bank, Bassem Saadi (left), and his son-in-law Ashraf al-Jada, in an undated photo. (Social media)

A local wing of Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for shooting at the Israeli troops as they operated in Jenin overnight, and Israeli officials said troops returned fire at the gunmen who opened fire, hitting several of them.

The Palestinian Authority health ministry said 17-year-old Dirar al-Kafrayni, later identified as a member of Islamic Jihad, was killed.

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, had also been previously jailed in Israel, according to the Shin Bet.

Jenin is widely seen as a hotbed of terror activity. Gunmen and other attackers behind 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.

A gunman affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, marches as men carry the body of Dirar al-Kafrayni, killed during clashes with Israeli troops in the West Bank city of Jenin, during his funeral at the Jenin refugee camp, on August 2, 2022. (Jaafar Ashitiyeh/AFP)

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.

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