IDF sends reinforcements to West Bank, Gaza after release of Trump peace plan

IDF sends reinforcements to West Bank, Gaza after release of Trump peace plan

Military says it is conducting ongoing assessments of the situation; relatively low turnout so far at Palestinian protests against the White House’s proposal

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

A Palestinian rioter hurls a rock during clashes with Israeli security forces following a protest in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on January 29, 2020. (Musa AL SHAER / AFP)
A Palestinian rioter hurls a rock during clashes with Israeli security forces following a protest in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on January 29, 2020. (Musa AL SHAER / AFP)

The Israel Defense Forces announced it was deploying additional infantry troops to the West Bank and Gaza border on Wednesday night, following the release of US President Donald Trump’s plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The military said it was conducting “constant situational assessments” amid concerns of violence in response to the long-awaited proposal, which the Palestinian Authority rejected both preemptively and after-the-fact.

Palestinians held protests throughout the West Bank on Wednesday, though turnout was relatively limited.

Small demonstrations with dozens to hundreds of participants were held in and around the Jordan Valley, Bethlehem, Hebron, Qalqiliya, Tulkarem, Abu Dis, al-Bireh and Ramallah, according to the Palestinian Authority’s Wafa news site.

At least two Palestinians were reportedly injured by live fire during the riots, with several others wounded by rubber bullets and tear gas, according to Wafa.

The military would not specify the exact number of reinforcements being sent. The additional troops being sent to the West Bank would come from the elite Maglan and Egoz commando units, while the Gaza Division would be reinforced with troops from the Golani Brigade’s 51st Battalion, it said.

The decision came after the military sent an additional infantry battalion to the Jordan Valley on Tuesday, ahead of the release of the Trump plan.

“In accordance with the constant situational assessments being conducted by the IDF, it was decided to reinforce the number of combat troops in the Judea and Samaria Division and Gaza Division,” the military said, using the biblical name for the West Bank.

On Tuesday, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett instructed the IDF to remain on high alert ahead of the plan’s release and prepare for the possibility of violence, as well as for the threats by the PA to not restrain or disperse rioters in the West Bank.

“The minister instructed the troops to be prepared for the scenario of an immediate escalation [of violence] in light of the presentation of the plan and the agitation of the street, without the cooperation of the Palestinian Authority,” his office said.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, left, meets with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, second from left, Judea and Samaria Division commander Brig. Gen. Yaniv Alaluf, center, and other senior IDF officers in the West Bank on January 28, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

According to unconfirmed reports in Hebrew media, PA President Mahmoud Abbas instructed Palestinian security not to stop protesters from confronting Israeli forces in the West Bank as the US releases the plan.

According to the Ynet news site, Abbas said: “We need to enlist all the young people. Stay out on the streets. We’re going to be on emergency footing in the coming days… Ahead of us are difficult days and we will need to bear the consequences of refusing the agreement.”

The several hundred soldiers from the Golani Brigade’s reconnaissance battalion that were set to be deployed to the IDF’s Jordan Valley Division had been conducting training exercises.

Palestinian demonstrators hold pictures of US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a protest in the village of Kfar Qaddum, near the West Bank city of Nablus, November 29, 2019. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Throughout the day, Bennett toured the West Bank and met with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, the head of the Central Command Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan, and the commander of the Judea and Samaria Division Brig. Gen. Yaniv Alaluf.

“The IDF and troops in the field are prepared for any eventuality. We have before us days that will determine the borders and the application of sovereignty,” Bennett said during his visit to the West Bank.

“Threats by the Palestinians will not deter us,” he added.

The Jordan Valley has been a source of contention in recent months, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to apply Israeli sovereignty to the region if elected in the upcoming parliamentary elections. His main rival, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, has made similar calls, but stressed the need for international agreement on the matter.

The Jordan Valley is a key strategic region running north-south along the Jordanian border that has long been seen by Israeli defense planners and political leaders as the country’s preferred eastern frontier.

Trump’s plan proposes Israeli sovereignty over much of the valley.

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