Ministers decide against Ramadan clampdown in bid to keep lid on tensions

Security officials fear reneging on plans to ease movement during holy month would spur more violence, but predict terror wave will continue; cabinet orders bolstering of police

Israeli soldiers patrol on March 30, 2022 a village south of Jenin in the West Bank. (AFP)
Israeli soldiers patrol on March 30, 2022 a village south of Jenin in the West Bank. (AFP)

Senior ministers reportedly decided Wednesday to push ahead with plans to ease restrictions for Palestinians during Ramadan, while ordering the bolstering of police and counter-terror efforts as security officials predicted that a wave of Palestinian attacks could continue to rev up over the coming days or weeks.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett convened his high-level security cabinet for the first time in months Wednesday night, a day after a Palestinian gunman killed four civilians and a cop in Bnei Brak, the third deadly terror attack to hit Israel in a week.

Seeking to head off what is already the most serious spate of attacks in years, ministers voted to bolster police presence at friction points and to find money for hundreds more cops to be hired, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

The statement did not specify a figure but according to the Walla news site, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev predicted an emergency budget of NIS 250 million ($78 million) would be needed.

The cabinet statement also said security forces would be reinforced along the Green Line, plans would be pushed to patch holes in the security barrier that runs along the border with the West Bank, and counter-terror operations would be launched against supporters of the Islamic State. Attacks in Beersheba and Hadera last week and on Sunday were carried out by supporters of the terror group.

According to reports, ministers also heeded calls by the heads of Israel’s various security agencies not to impose a collective punishment on Palestinians by reversing plans aimed at calming tensions around the holy month of Ramadan. Some ministers had suggested Israel place the West Bank on lockdown or take other measures to restrict Palestinian access to Jerusalem’s Old City.

A body is removed from the site where a terrorist opened fire in Bnei Brak, Israel, March 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Instead, Israel will issue additional entry permits for elderly Muslim worshipers to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, expand the hours of such permits, and implement other measures aimed at easing freedom of movement for Palestinians, according to an Israeli official.

During US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Israel earlier this week, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced that the government would increase the number of permits for Gazans to work in Israel by an additional 8,000, bringing the total to 20,000 permits for the Hamas-controlled territory, which has seen one of its quietest periods in over a year.

On Tuesday, an official familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel that the moves were in jeopardy following Tuesday’s attack, though the gestures would have been at even greater risk had Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas not released a statement condemning the attack. Officials said Abbas released the statement under pressure from Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Palestinians pass through a checkpoint in Bethlehem as they head to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City to attend the second Friday prayers of the holy month of Ramadan on May 25, 2018. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Some reports suggested that Israel could still annul permits for Palestinians to enter Israel for pleasure trips to the beach or other sites.

Police predicted that any reversal on already announced plans would spark more unrest, Kan reported, though the station also said that police signed an order banning certain Hamas members from visiting the Old City and other areas of Jerusalem during the holy month, which begins this weekend.

Jordan’s King Abdullah has also warned that calm will only be maintained so long as freedom of movement for Muslims at the Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan is maintained.

Security officials said at a meeting of top defense brass earlier in the day that they are expecting attacks to continue, including from Islamic State supporters, according to Hebrew media reports. According to Haaretz, officials predict that a wave of violence could last months.

Following the meeting, Gantz ordered the bolstering of police forces with 1,000 Israel Defense Force combat soldiers and said he could “flood the streets” with thousands of reservists if need be. Israel rarely calls up reservists, except for training purposes.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz meets with top security and military officials on March 30, 2022, following several deadly terror attacks in Israel. (Elad Malka/Defense Ministry)

The combat soldiers — who are still in training — will be deployed to the borders of the West Bank, as well as within Israeli cities, according to police needs, Gantz’s office said.

Gantz said that since four people were killed in a stabbing and ramming attack in Beersheba last week, the West Bank had been bolstered with 12 extra battalions and the border with the Gaza Strip with another two.

The first two attacks over the past week, in Beersheba and Hadera, were carried out by Arab Israelis, while Tuesday’s shooting was by a Palestinian who was in Israel illegally.

Dozens of locals protested at the scene of the attack in Bnei Brak chanting “Death to Arabs,” and “Revenge,” while Arabs demonstrated at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem and celebrated the attack in Gaza and the West Bank.

Last May, tensions around Ramadan and an 11-day conflict with the Gaza Strip escalated into the worst rioting in decades between the Jewish and Arab communities. Arab Israeli leaders have condemned the recent terror attacks.

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