Israel says it foiled attempt to smuggle explosives from Gaza to West Bank

IDF chief orders to halt all exports from Strip until further notice; Defense Ministry says ‘high-quality’ bomb material was hidden in shipment of clothes

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

Explosives caught by Israeli authorities at Kerem Shalom Crossing, September 4, 2023. (Defense Ministry)
Explosives caught by Israeli authorities at Kerem Shalom Crossing, September 4, 2023. (Defense Ministry)

Israeli authorities on Monday foiled an attempt by Palestinians to smuggle several kilograms of explosive material from the Gaza Strip to terror operatives in the West Bank, the Defense Ministry said.

According to the ministry, security guards at the Kerem Shalom Crossing found the “high-quality” explosive material hidden in a shipment of clothes being exported from the Gaza Strip to Israel.

It said that, according to initial assessments, the explosives were intended to be used for terror activity in the West Bank.

The explosives and three trucks worth of “international fashion brand clothes” were seized and the investigation was handed over to the Shin Bet security agency, the ministry said.

Following the incident, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi instructed the ministry to halt all exports of goods from the Gaza Strip until further notice. The move was approved by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

The ministry said it would reopen the checkpoint for exports following an assessment.

Palestinian trucks loaded with aggregate, iron, and cement enter through the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, on September 1, 2021. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90/File)

“The defense establishment will not allow terror elements to take advantage of the civilian and humanitarian channel in the Gaza Strip for the needs of military force buildup and acts of terror,” it said in a statement.

Attempts to smuggle weapons out of the Gaza Strip to the West Bank are rare, but not unheard of.

In May, Defense Ministry guards foiled an attempt to export several handguns from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank.

Israel has maintained a blockade of the Hamas-ruled coastal strip since the terror group violently took over the territory from the Palestinian Authority in 2007. Israel says the measure is necessary to prevent Hamas from acquiring weapons.

Monday’s incident comes after security forces foiled an attempt in July to smuggle Iranian-made explosives into Israel, which were also believed to have been destined for terror groups in the West Bank.

Violence has surged across the West Bank over the past year and a half, with a rise in Palestinian shooting attacks against Israeli civilians and troops, near-nightly arrest raids by the military, and an uptick in revenge attacks by extremist Jewish settlers against Palestinians.

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