Following several weeks of rioting on Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will convene a special security assessment on Sunday to discuss the recent violence and to hear from security officials on dozens of reported terror alerts over the Sukkot holiday.
Channel 13 reported Friday that Netanyahu will meet with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, representatives from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), and other security officials. The network noted the assessment will take place outside the framework of the security cabinet, which last held a meeting two weeks ago that resulted in a public disagreement between the Prime Minister’s Office and far-right lawmaker National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir over Palestinian security prisoners.
According to the report, the security assessment is set to cover recent unrest on the Gaza border, terror threats in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and trips by Jewish visitors to the flashpoint Temple Mount site in the Old City over Sukkot.
The site is considered the holiest in Judaism, as the location of two biblical temples, while the Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third-holiest shrine in Islam, making the area a major flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Major conflicts and bouts of violence have broken out following events at the site, where Jews and other non-Muslims are permitted to visit during certain hours but may not pray there, under a status quo arrangement that has prevailed for decades.
In recent years, Jewish religious nationalists, including members of the governing coalition, have increasingly visited the site and demanded equal prayer rights for Jews there, infuriating the Palestinians and Muslims around the world.
Security forces have been on heightened alert amid a rise in terror threats during the month of September, ahead of the start of the High Holidays, which began with Rosh Hashanah two weeks ago. Earlier this month, police encouraged licensed gun owners to carry their weapons to synagogues over the High Holiday period.
On the border with Gaza, tensions have spiked over the past two weeks as Palestinian youths have held daily demonstrations on the fence involving violent rioting, explosives and incendiary balloons lofted into southern Israel, sparking a number of fires. There’s also been burning tires and, according to the Israeli military, gunfire toward Israeli soldiers.
Israel has responded with live fire and earlier this week shelled several Hamas posts in Gaza from the ground and air. It also closed its sole pedestrian crossing with the Gaza Strip in response to rioting, before reopening it on Thursday following a reported Egypt-brokered agreement that will see the terror group Hamas, which rules over Gaza, rein in the rioting.
COGAT, the Israeli defense body that deals with Palestinian civilian affairs, said late Wednesday that it would reopen the Erez crossing for Palestinian laborers employed in Israel, and that conciliatory measures could continue if calm was maintained. Early Thursday, workers thronged the crossing before being let through, with some resting on patches of grass as they waited to cross.
“Continuation of the civil measures will be possible in accordance with security assessments and with the preservation of stable security,” COGAT said.
The closure of the crossing affected 17,000 Gazans who have permits to enter Israel for work. Gaza’s economy is badly harmed by the laborers being barred entry to Israel.
The crossing is temporarily closed again this weekend for Sukkot. Traffic related to humanitarian and medical issues and some other exceptional cases will be allowed through the crossings during the holiday closure, the IDF said.
Also Wednesday, Gallant said Israel was prepared to step up actions against Gaza if unrest on the border continues.
The unrest first erupted earlier this month, shortly after Hamas’ Finance Ministry announced it was slashing the salaries of civil servants by more than half, deepening a financial crisis in the enclave that has staggered under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade for the past 16 years.
The sudden violence at the security fence has stoked fears of a wider escalation between Israel and Hamas, which have fought four wars and engaged in numerous smaller battles since Hamas took over the territory.
But experts said that the rioting — which persisted with Hamas’ tacit consent — have more to do with Hamas’ efforts to manage the territory and halt its spiraling economic crisis than draw Israel into a new round of conflict.
Under arrangements stemming from past ceasefire understandings with Israel, the gas-rich emirate of Qatar pays the salaries of civil servants in the Gaza Strip, provides direct cash transfers to poor families and offers other kinds of humanitarian aid.
Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said last weekend that it had begun the distribution of $100 cash transfers to some 100,000 needy families in the impoverished territory. Disbursements for civil servants’ salaries have suffered delays since May.