IDF Scales Back West Bank Operation Against Hamas, Shifts Focus to Intelligence

Defense minister says bulk of actions against Hamas exhausted; Israeli forces begin removing temporary checkpoints set up in Hebron.

Reuters

The Israel Defense Forces significantly scaled back its operations against Hamas in the West Bank on Tuesday and began removing temporary checkpoints set up inside Hebron.

However, infantry units are continuing to scan large swaths of territory northwest of Hebron in an effort to find the kidnapped teens and their abductors.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said that "A large part of the operation against Hamas has been exhausted."

Twelve days after the kidnapping of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrah from a hitchhiking spot in Gush Etzion, the main focus of Operation Brother's Keeper is now shifting to intelligence gathering and searches.

While touring the border with Lebanon on Tuesday, Ya'alon said that the operations against Hamas began with the arrest of many dozens of Hamas operatives, but as the days went by, decreased to handfuls and in recent days, just a few.

Earlier this week the defense establishment already gave indications that the operation was nearing its end in its current format.

During the first week of the operation, the political leadership expanded its goals. Alongside the search for the youths and the Hamas cell that allegedly abducted them, a broad wave of arrests was made, including the detention of over 300 Hamas members, including about 50 who were released in the Gilad Shalit prisoner-exchange deal.

The IDF also raided institutions affiliated with Hamas. Soldiers entered Palestinian cities and towns in numbers not seen there in years, which led to frequent violent clashes with Palestinian youths. Five Palestinians have been killed by IDF fire during the clashes.

The defense establishment is troubled by the increase in the number of Palestinian casualties and the possibility that the confrontations will spill over into the month of Ramadan, which starts in less than a week. It seems most of the Hamas activists on the lists prepared by the IDF and Shin Bet security service for arrest have already been taken in.