Right-wing West Bank march Monday will strain stretched security forces – officials

7 ministers, including Smotrich and Ben Gvir, set to join event setting out from near Huwara, site of recent terror attacks, and heading to Evyatar wildcat outpost

IDF soldiers guard a bus station at the Tapuah Junction next to the West Bank city of Nablus, June 30, 2020. (AP/Oded Balilty)
IDF soldiers guard a bus station at the Tapuah Junction next to the West Bank city of Nablus, June 30, 2020. (AP/Oded Balilty)

Security officials warned Sunday that a West Bank march planned by right-wing groups and set to take place on Monday will put more pressure on security forces already “spread thin” by skyrocketing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank, as well as on multiple other fronts.

The march is set to begin at the Tapuah Junction in the northern West Bank — five kilometers from the Palestinian town of Huwara, which has recently been the site of multiple Palestinian terror attacks in recent months, as well as a revenge rampage by hundreds of settler extremists — and will finish at the Evyatar settlement outpost.

Seven ministers are expected to take part in the three-kilometer march, including Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, as well as other coalition members, Channel 12 news reported.

“The march was approved by the relevant authorities, but we are already going through a terror wave — [the march] will require security forces to dedicate to it officers who are supposed to be on other missions,” an unnamed security official told the network.

The security official said that among the rest of their tasks, forces were working to combat rising rates of nationalist crimes being perpetrated by Israelis against Palestinians in the West Bank, for fear that such an incident may worsen the escalation.

“There were more than 20 nationalist crime incidents over the weekend that challenged security forces, who were already spread thin,” the security official said.

Windows are seen smashed by stones hurled by settlers at an office in the West Bank town of Huwara, March 5, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

“Incidents of nationalist crime only bring more terror and divert security forces from their main mission — to pursue terrorists.”

According to a report in the Haaretz daily, an entire IDF battalion will be diverted from the manhunt for the perpetrators of the Jordan Valley deadly terror attack over the weekend in order to secure the settler march.

Security officials pushed back on the government’s demand to secure the march but were overruled, Haaretz claimed.

Tensions have skyrocketed across the region in recent days after tit-for-tat rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and Israeli strikes, a major rocket barrage from Lebanon, clashes at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, rocket barrages from Syria, and a suspected Iranian drone launched from Syria last week.

There have also been several attacks in the West Bank, with two Israeli sisters from the West Bank settlement of Efrat shot dead on Friday, an Italian tourist rammed to death in Tel Aviv, three soldiers hurt in a car-ramming attack a week earlier,  and two more soldiers hurt in separate shooting attacks on Wednesday and Thursday.

IDF forces are still pursuing two suspects in the attack in which the sisters were killed, which occurred in the Jordan Valley.

The West Bank march comes amid the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which this year once again coincides with the Jewish festival of Passover, and is known to be a period of high tensions between Israeli forces and Palestinians.

Israeli security forces stand guard as Palestinians pray in Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque compound atop the Temple Mount on April 5, 2023, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Saturday ordered the IDF to extend a closure on West Bank and Gaza Strip crossings for Palestinians, preventing them from taking part in prayers at the Temple Mount’s Al-Aqsa Mosque despite the ongoing month of Ramadan.

The Passover closure was initially meant to last from 5 p.m. Wednesday until Saturday evening, with another closure on the last day of Passover beginning on April 11 and lasting until April 12. Following an assessment, Gallant ordered the current closure to be extended until April 12. Exceptions will be made for humanitarian and other outstanding cases.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report. 

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