Military tightens restrictions on West Bank’s Jericho as terror warnings rise

IDF also still searching for a number of Palestinian cells and gunmen who carried out recent attacks; army expected to demolish several terrorists’ homes in coming weeks

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

File: Israeli soldiers search a car at a checkpoint at the entrance of the city of Jericho in the West Bank, on February 28, 2023. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
File: Israeli soldiers search a car at a checkpoint at the entrance of the city of Jericho in the West Bank, on February 28, 2023. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

The Israel Defense Forces has imposed heavy restrictions on movement in and out of the West Bank city of Jericho for the past nine days, citing concerns of terror attacks, as the military meanwhile hunts for several wanted Palestinians.

Palestinians have called the restrictions on Jericho a “suffocating siege,” as the temporary checkpoints at the main entrances to the city have caused unusually heavy traffic.

The tightened restrictions stem from a rise in intelligence alerts of potential terror attacks by Palestinians in the Jericho area.

The IDF told The Times of Israel on Sunday that following a recent assessment, the military had decided to increase security checks around the city.

“The IDF works to protect the State of Israel and at the same time works to minimize harm to the daily life [of Palestinians], and optimizes inspection methods as much as possible,” the military added in a statement.

A military source said the security checks were in place to prevent terror attacks, and were not a blockade of the city.

In recent months, several Palestinians set out from Jericho and the surrounding area to carry out attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces.

File: Israeli soldiers man a checkpoint at the entrance of Jericho in the West Bank, on February 28, 2023. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

The city and the adjacent Aqabat Jabr refugee camp are part of Area A of the West Bank — officially under complete Palestinian Authority control, though the Israeli military conducts activities there.

The city is a popular tourist destination for Palestinians, Israelis, and foreigners.

Palestinians trying to enter or leave the city, as well as other West Bank Palestinians attempting to travel abroad via the nearby King Hussein Bridge Border Crossing, are being delayed for hours at the checkpoints.

The official Palestinian Wafa news agency said Israeli forces were thoroughly inspecting drivers’ and commuters’ identity cards and belongings as they entered and exited the city.

Last week, several Israeli civilians who traveled to Jericho to celebrate Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr found themselves stuck in the city for more than a day. One told the Haaretz daily that they were stuck in traffic for 15 hours, before turning around on foot and eventually managing to leave the city a day later.

Recent months have seen deadly clashes in Aqabat Jabr. Among the casualties were a 20-year-old Palestinian who was shot dead after fleeing from Israeli troops on April 24, and a 15-year-old Palestinian who allegedly hurled Molotov cocktails at IDF forces.

Israeli security forces walk past burning waste during a military raid in the city of Jericho in the West Bank on March 1, 2023. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

In February, five gunmen affiliated with the Hamas terror group were killed in a raid on Aqabat Jabr. Two of them had allegedly been responsible for an attempted shooting attack at a restaurant at the nearby Almog Junction.

The Israeli military was expected to ramp up operations in the West Bank in the coming weeks, as troops search for a number of Palestinian terrorists who carried out recent attacks.

The terror cell that killed Lucy Dee and her two daughters, Maia and Rina, in the Jordan Valley on April 7 have not yet been captured. They were thought to be hiding in the northern West Bank.

Troops were also searching for a Palestinian gunman who opened fire at Israeli joggers last week close to the West Bank town of Silwad, moderately wounding one; a gunman who wounded a soldier in Beit Ummar on April 5; the gunmen who shot and wounded two soldiers in Huwara on March 25; and a terror cell behind shooting attacks against the northern Israeli towns of Meirav and Ma’ale Gilboa on April 18 and April 3.

A Palestinian man who carried out an attack against a bus of soldiers in the Jordan Valley last year — with his son and nephew, who were detained — was also still on the loose.

Israeli troops are seen operating in the West Bank refugee camp of Aqabat Jabr, April 10, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Separately, the IDF is slated to demolish a number of homes of Palestinians accused of carrying out deadly attacks, including Abdel Kamel Jouri and Osama Taweel, members of the Nablus-based Lion’s Den terror group, who killed Staff Sgt. Ido Baruch near the settlement of Shavei Shomron on October 11, 2022; Younis Hilan, who stabbed 63-year-old Shalom Sofer as he exited a store in al-Funduq, a Palestinian village near Kedumim on October 25; Muhammed Souf, 18, who murdered three Israelis near the West Bank settlement of Ariel on November 15; and Eslam Froukh, 26, who set off two bombs at two bus stops near entrances to Jerusalem on November 23, killing two and wounding over 20.

The military has also made preparations to potentially demolish the home of the alleged terrorist who killed dual American-Israeli citizen Elan Ganeles on February 27 near Jericho.

Israeli security forces at the scene of a shooting attack in the Jordan Valley, near the West Bank city of Jericho, February 27, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

As a matter of policy, Israel regularly demolishes the homes of Palestinians accused of carrying out deadly terror attacks. The efficacy of the practice has been hotly debated even within the Israeli security establishment, while human rights activists denounce it as unjust collective punishment.

Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have been high for the past year, with the Israeli military conducting near-nightly raids in the West Bank amid a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks.

Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank have left 19 people dead since the beginning of the year and several more seriously hurt.

At least 95 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the year, most of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under circumstances that are being investigated.

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