Israel braces for escalation, with major attack said foiled in recent days

Public security minister warns country in ‘a very sensitive situation’ and anything could set off the area; police on high alert with 2,000 officers deployed in Jerusalem

Israeli police officers gather outside the site of a stabbing attack, in Jerusalem on September 13, 2021. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
Israeli police officers gather outside the site of a stabbing attack, in Jerusalem on September 13, 2021. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

Israeli security forces foiled a major attack this week, as Palestinian terror groups sought to step up violence in solidarity with six escaped prisoners, Hebrew media reported Monday.

The Shin Bet security service and police foiled a number of attacks, Channel 12 and 13 reported, without giving details on the major attack prevented. Meanwhile, police were going on high alert, fearing further violence over the Yom Kippur holiday, particularly in Jerusalem.

Channel 13 reported that some 2,000 police would be stationed in the city.

This week saw several stabbing attempts, with both Israel and Palestinian terror groups saying the violence was inspired by the prison escape.

“I don’t know if we are on the verge of an escalation,” Public Security Minister Omer Barlev told the Kan public broadcaster. “But we are definitely in a very sensitive period — the recent attacks, the escape of the terrorists from the prison and the two who have not yet been caught, alongside our problems with Hamas.

“Any incident could set off the entire area, so we are preparing for an escalation in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and Gaza,” he said, referring to the West Bank by its biblical names.

Palestinian youths hurl stones near the Israeli-controlled Hawara checkpoint during a protest in support of the six Palestinian prisoners who escaped from Israel’s Gilboa Prison, on September 13, 2021. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

However, Barlev said none of the sides had a real interest in “igniting this barrel of gunpowder.”

Kan also reported that police were concerned that the stabber in Monday’s attack in Jerusalem, a 17-year-old youth from near Hebron in the southern West Bank, may have had accomplices.

The assailant was named in media reports as Basil Shawamra, a resident of the town of Deir al-Asal al-Fauqa. He was hospitalized in serious condition after being shot by a border police officer.

His two victims were hospitalized in moderate conditions, with stab wounds to the upper body.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad also attributed the recent surge in attacks to the prisoners’ escape.

“The escalation of stabbings in occupied Jerusalem, the shootings, the increasing clashes of popular anger in the West Bank and the demonstrations in Gaza, come within the framework of the freedom uprising launched by our Palestinian people in solidarity with the heroic prisoners and confronting the arrogance of the occupation against them,” said Hamas spokesman Abdelatif al-Qanou.

“Sustaining the clash with the Zionist occupation and escalating the pace of operations by various means is the best option to confront the Zionist occupation,” he said, praising Monday’s stabbing attack in Jerusalem.

People gather around a trail of blood at the site of a stabbing attack, in Jerusalem on September 13, 2021. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

“Acts of resistance are the legitimate right of the Palestinian people, and we bless and support this jihadist act,” said Islamic Jihad spokesperson Daoud Shehab.

Tensions have been running high across the West Bank over the past week, following the dramatic escape of the Palestinian prisoners from the high-security Gilboa Prison last Monday. Four of the six prisoners were recaptured by police over the weekend, but two remain at large, and security officials believe they may be hiding out in the West Bank and receiving assistance from Palestinians there.

Among the Palestinians, the fugitives have been widely hailed as “heroes” who succeeded in freeing themselves from multiple life sentences. In the Gaza Strip as well as in the West Bank, Palestinians organized sit-ins and joyful gatherings to celebrate the prison break. Five of the six are Islamic Jihad members and the sixth is a Fatah terror kingpin; four of the six were serving life terms for murder or attempted murder.

News about the capture of four of the fugitives sparked several violent protests and a flurry of bitter social media posts expressing disappointment and shock.

A protester flies a Palestinian flag and chants slogans next to burning tires during clashes with Israeli troops following a demonstration supporting Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, at the entrance of the West Bank city of Nablus, September 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

There has been an increase in the number of violent incidents since the escape.

Monday’s attack, during which a suspected terrorist stabbed two people outside the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem before being shot by a police officer, came hours after an attempted attack in the West Bank, in which a Palestinian man tried to stab two IDF soldiers at a hitchhiking station, but was shot before he could inflict harm.

On Sunday, heavy gunfire was heard in the Jenin region in the northern West Bank, as Israeli security forces reportedly came under fire during the manhunt for the remaining two escaped prisoners.

Overnight Sunday, terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired two rockets at Israel, which were intercepted by the Gaza Strip, marking a third consecutive night of rocket fire from Gaza.

Separately, on Friday afternoon, an assailant was shot as he attempted to stab police officers in Jerusalem’s Old City, and later died of his wounds, police and hospital officials said.

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