Aircraft told to avoid Gaza, Syria, Lebanon borders

Iron Dome on alert in the north for final Friday of Ramadan, Iran’s Quds Day

Security forces brace for possible attacks as tens of thousands set to attend Al-Aqsa prayers, annual events in Iran marked by anti-Israel incitement and cyber attacks

An Iron Dome air defense system is seem near the border with Lebanon, in northern Israel, April 7, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)
An Iron Dome air defense system is seem near the border with Lebanon, in northern Israel, April 7, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

Israel has readied its air defenses amid fears of a security flare-up on Friday when Palestinian worshipers will throng the Al-Aqsa Mosque for Ramadan prayers and Iran will commemorate its annual “Quds Day” with anti-Israel activities.

Iron Dome missile defense batteries were on a high state of alert for potential attacks, especially in the north, with several batteries deployed and oriented toward Lebanon and Syria last week.

Security forces were concerned about possible rocket attacks and incursions by drones. Terror groups fired dozens of rockets at Israel last week from Lebanon, Syria and Gaza after fighting between police and Palestinians at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. A drone that was launched into Israel from Syria earlier this month, and downed by the air force, was likely Iranian, a military source said.

Israeli authorities closed off the airspace near the borders of Lebanon, Syria and Gaza until Sunday afternoon. The warning not to fly within six kilometers (3.7 miles) of the borders applies primarily to agriculture and other light aircraft, as airlines never fly in such close proximity to the borders.

There were also fears of attacks on the ground and Israel Defense Forces troops were prepared for possible incidents along borders.

In Gaza, terrorist groups were also bracing for possible futher retaliation by Israel after Hamas fired volleys of rockets at Israel last week, the Kan public broadcaster reported, citing sources in the Strip.

The terror groups fear that Israel has worked to quiet the security front and lull its enemies, before launching a surprise assault. Senior leaders of the Hamas terror group have limited their public appearances and movements, the report said.

Israeli forces outside Jerusalem’s Old City during clashes with Palestinians inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque on April 5, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The security concerns come as Israel’s adversaries have discussed cooperation in recent weeks.

The commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, Esmail Qaani, visited Lebanon’s capital Beirut last week and met with Hezbollah and Hamas, Kan reported on Thursday.

Qaani discussed uniting against Israel during the meeting with the terror groups, the report said. Qaani also visited Damascus last week.

Iran backs the Hamas, Hezbollah, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah also met with a delegation led by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Beirut on Sunday to discuss cooperation.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah (back right) meets with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (back left) and a delegation from the terror group in Beirut, Lebanon, April 9, 2023. (Twitter photo screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The final Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan sees tens of thousands of worshipers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the site of repeated clashes between security forces and Palestinians. Fighting at the site led to rocket fire against Israel and two deadly terror attacks last week.

Also on the last Friday of Ramadan, Iran marks its annual Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day. Iran has commemorated the day since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, claiming it as an occasion to express support for the Palestinians.

Iran commemorates the day with anti-Israel speeches, events and threats to “liberate” Jerusalem from Israeli control. Mass rallies often include incitement against Israel, including the burning of Israeli and US flags and chants of “death to Israel” and “death to America.”

There are often cyber attacks against Israeli targets.

Demonstrators burn representations of Israeli, British and US flags during the annual pro-Palestinian Al-Quds, or Jerusalem, Day rally in Tehran, Iran, April 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

In Jerusalem, police geared up for unrest as Palestinians crowded the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque overnight Thursday-Friday.

Dozens of Palestinians at the site chanted against Israel and Jews, and praised terrorists including Hamas military commander Muhammad Deif, Army Radio reported.

Some Palestinians threw rocks and glass bottles at police. Border Police officers were sent to the area but did not enter the Temple Mount.

Hamas has urged Palestinians to flock to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and not to leave the site during Ramadan, issuing threats against Israel over the site.

Over 2,000 police and Border Police officers were deploying around Jerusalem on Friday, with reinforcements headed to the Old City, the outskirts of the capital, and East Jerusalem.

Palestinians protest after Friday prayers during Ramadan, at the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound and Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, April 7, 2023. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Tensions in and around Jerusalem’s Old City have been high in recent weeks, in particular during the overlap period of the Passover and Ramadan holidays, and amid the clashes between security forces and worshipers atop the Temple Mount. Passover ended on Thursday.

Security forces are also on alert in the West Bank following warnings about possible terror attacks and are continuing the search for a terror cell that killed a mother and two daughters last week. A ramming attack last week also killed an Italian tourist in Tel Aviv.

Further stoking security fears, there has been a general increase in incitement on social media, Hebrew-language media reports said.

In an effort to head off violence, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced that Jews and other non-Muslims were barred from visiting the Temple Mount during the last 10 days of Ramadan, starting from Wednesday.

The decision was announced on Tuesday hours after Hamas’s statement calling on Palestinians not to leave the Al-Aqsa Mosque site, and warning Israel against allowing visits of Jews there.

The Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary, is the holiest place for Jews as the site of the two ancient Jewish temples, and Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third-holiest shrine in Islam.

Border Police patrol Jerusalem’s Old City during the Passover and Ramadan holidays, April 10, 2023. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Last week, police said hundreds of Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque with explosive devices, rocks and fireworks in order to target Israeli officers and civilians. Police said they were left with no choice but to enter the mosque overnight Tuesday-Wednesday, which then sparked intense clashes with the Palestinians inside.

Police managed to overpower the rioters but several people inside captured footage of officers beating and apprehending Palestinians, which went viral on social media and sparked a massive international uproar. Hamas terrorists also responded by firing barrages of rockets at Israel from both Lebanon and Gaza, leading to Israeli retaliatory airstrikes.

Israel has vowed repeatedly to maintain the status quo at the site, whereby Jews are allowed to visit there — under numerous restrictions and only during limited hours — but not pray. However, Jews have increasingly been allowed to quietly pray there, while Palestinians have instigated violence at the site and unilaterally designated additional sections of the site for Muslim prayer.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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