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Israel shuts down for Yom Kippur; security forces on high alert amid terror threats

Airport, trains, buses halt operations, airwaves go silent as Jewish Israelis mark 25-hour Day of Atonement; IDF imposes closure on West Bank, Gaza

People ride bicycles and walk along empty roads in Jerusalem, on the evening of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, October 4, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
People ride bicycles and walk along empty roads in Jerusalem, on the evening of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, October 4, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel shut down beginning Tuesday afternoon for Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement and the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, as security forces remained on high alert for the holiday amid a spike in terror warnings.

All flights in and out of Ben Gurion airport ceased at 2:00 p.m on Tuesday. The airport will reopen Wednesday night with arrivals starting at 10:30 p.m., while departures will resume an hour later. During this period Israel’s air space is also closed to flights passing through.

Border crossings were also shut and will reopen late Wednesday.

Trains stopped operating at 1:00 p.m. and will only resume on Thursday morning, as inner-city buses and inter-city transport also halted their routes starting at 2:00 p.m. They will gradually restart Wednesday evening.

As sundown approached, all local radio and television broadcasts also gradually fell silent.

Roads will largely clear of cars by early Tuesday evening as is the national tradition — to be replaced with multitudes of people on bicycles and other non-motorized vehicles. Driving during the Jewish Day of Atonement is considered taboo, and many secular Israelis have turned the day into a biking holiday, taking advantage of the car-free roads.

Cyclists ride on a car-free highway, during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sept. 16, 2021 (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

For religious and traditional Jews, the 25-hour period of fasting and praying is set to begin at 5:45 p.m. in Jerusalem and 6:01 p.m. in Tel Aviv. It will end on Wednesday at 6:55 p.m. and 6:57 p.m., respectively.

Meanwhile, security and rescue services will remain on high alert throughout the day. The IDF will also impose a closure on the West Bank and Gaza, a standard practice over Jewish and Israeli holidays.

Security officials have received more than 80 warnings or intelligence tips about possible terror attacks as Jewish Israelis prepare to observe the fast day, according to Hebrew-language media reports. The number is higher than last year when two Palestinian security prisoners were on the run following a prison escape, and security forces were grappling with a spate of stabbing attacks.

The security alerts came as Israel faces several security challenges amid the High Holiday season. Israeli troops have come under increasing gunfire during raids in the West Bank, and there have been repeated clashes in recent weeks between security forces and Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the Old City. Additionally, there were also several failed shooting attacks targeting Israelis in the West Bank last week.

According to Channel 13 news on Monday, 26 military battalions received reinforcement over Yom Kippur and thousands of Israeli soldiers will remain in the West Bank and along the security barrier. The majority of their work involves securing the flow of traffic ahead of the holiday and providing security to West Bank settlements throughout the day, according to the report.

Israeli troops carry out searches following a shooting attack, in the West Bank village of Salem, near Nablus, on October 2, 2022. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

The number of battalions in the West Bank increased to 26 from about 13-14 since around March when the military launched Operation Breakwater in response to a wave of terror attacks that killed 19 Israelis between March and May.

Over 2,000 Palestinians have been arrested since the beginning of the anti-terror operation in the spring and over 200 Palestinians have been killed in what has become the deadliest period in the West Bank in years.

Most of the dead have been wanted terrorists who opened fire, or youths who threw firebombs or stones at soldiers entering their neighborhoods. But several civilians who were not involved in any violence have also died.

For the Magen David Adom Rescue service and other paramedics, Yom Kippur is one of the busiest days of the year with hundreds of extra medics, paramedics, ambulances and volunteers deployed across the country.

An ambulance on an empty street in Jerusalem on Yom Kippur, on September 16, 2021. (Flash90)

Most injuries over Yom Kippur come from accidents on the roads as tens of thousands of children and teens take advantage of the deserted streets to ride their bicycles. Other common Yom Kippur injuries are caused by parents leaving children unattended outside synagogues and, of course, dehydration and complications from fasting.

Last year, a 12-year-old boy was tragically killed by an alleged drunk driver while riding his bike, and an 11-year-old boy was seriously injured in a separate incident.

The Times of Israel will resume updates when the fast day ends in Israel.

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