Israeli security forces will remain on high alert at least until the end of the month of Ramadan, if not beyond, due to the recent spate of terror attacks within the Green Line and incidents involving gunfire in the West Bank.
“We are in the midst of a joint effort, by all security forces, to stop the string of recent terrorist attacks and to bring back security to the citizens of Israel,” said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who met with the head of the Shin Bet Ron Bar and the security service’s divisions Saturday to discuss the deteriorating security situation.
“During Shabbat, the Shin Bet, the police, the IDF and anti-terror units stopped an imminent attack, but we can assume that there will be many more attempts, and we are working to prevent them as well,” Bennett added.
Four Palestinians were killed during the weekend in clashes with Israeli security forces in the territories. In one of the clashes, near the West Bank city of Jenin, four members of the Police Special Anti-Terror Unit – widely known by its Hebrew acronym, Yamam – were injured. As of Saturday evening one was in critical condition, one was in moderate condition and two had mild injuries. The three Palestinians killed in that clash were, according to the Shin Bet, members of a cell that had carried out a shooting attack and were on their way to conduct another one when they were intercepted by Yamam forces.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz issued a statement Saturday evening in which he addressed Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, saying, “We are in a difficult period of terror attacks against Israel citizens, a situation that we cannot accept. We are considering the measures we can take in honor of Ramadan in order to allow you to celebrate the holiday in the best way possible, while we at the same time maintain security.”
Continuing, Gantz said, “Recently, in coordination with the Palestinian Authority, we are advancing a series of measures designed to improve the quality of life and the economy in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip – measures whose progress terrorism threatens and on which we can only continue to work if security stability is restored. We want this, and I am sure that the majority of Palestinians also want this,” Gantz said.
On Friday night a combined force of Yamam, the Shin Bet and the Israel Defense Forces conducted the operation to arrest a Palestinian cell that was on its way to carrying out a shooting attack, according to the Shin Bet. The cell’s members live in Jenin and nearby villages, and a few of them have ties to the Islamic Jihad organization. According to the Shin Bet, they were involved in a recent shooting in the Tul Karm area.
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In a statement, the IDF said the Israeli forces were trying to arrest members of the cell, who were traveling in a car near the village of Arabeh, west of Jenin, when the men shot at them, wounding four. The Yamam member who was critically injured is a company commander who took part in many of the unit’s operations to arrest and kill militants in the territories in the past two decades.
The three Palestinians in the car died in the exchange of fire. An M16 assault rifle stolen from the IDF and hand grenades were found in their possession, and a search of their car turned up a will in which one of them urged his others to continue to carry out attacks. A video showed its author reading the will out loud, before setting off on the planned terror attack.
On Saturday afternoon IDF and Shin Bet forces arrested a fourth Palestinian man, thought to be the fourth member of the cell, in Shuweika, a village near Tul Karm. The arrest operation was made urgently, amid fears the militant would try to carry out a terror attack to avenge his partners’ deaths. A second M16 was found in his possession.
In a separate incident in Hebron Friday, a 29-year-old Palestinian died after being shot in the head by soldiers, according to the IDF after he tried to throw a firebomb at them. The man, Ahmad Yunis al-Atrash, was released from an Israeli prison about 18 months ago after serving time for security offenses.
Some of the Palestinians killed in recent incidents have a similar background: residents of the Jenin area, former security prisoners, some of whom have previous ties to Islamic Jihad – even though the organization has not officially claimed responsibility for any of the terror attacks. The gunman who killed four Israeli civilians and a policeman in Bnei Brak last week followed this pattern. Hamas and Islamic Jihad issued threats against Israel after the killing of the three militants near Jenin Saturday. In previous years there have been cases where Islamic Jihad has fired rockets from the Gaza Strip in response to the killing of its operatives or of people identified with the organization in clashes with Israeli forces in the West Bank.
Against the background of the increase in the number of terrorist attacks within the Green Line and the incidents involving gunfire in the territories, coupled with the start of the holy month of Ramadan holiday, Israeli security forces were placed on high alert last week. The IDF stationed 14 battalions of combat soldiers in the West Bank and at the border with the Gaza Strip, suspending training for several units. In addition, about 1,000 soldiers in special forces training have been assigned to the police for patrol activities within Israel’s borders.
Over the weekend Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi held an assessment of the special deployments and preparations, and Kochavi toured IDF units in the northern West Bank. During discussions in the defense establishment, it was estimated that it might take about two months to calm the situation and halt the escalation. There have been no incidents so far in the Gaza Strip, despite the clear escalation in the West Bank.