Israel Halts Traffic Near Gaza Fearing Retaliation Over Islamic Jihad Leader's Arrest

Egypt holds talks with Gaza leaders in bid to prevent escalation over Israel's arrest of senior Islamic Jihad commander. Fearing a response, Israel blocks roads, reinforces Iron Dome batteries

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Israel Defense Forces halt traffic near the Gaza border, on Tuesday.
Israel Defense Forces halt traffic near the Gaza border, on Tuesday.Credit: Eliyahu Herskovitz

The Israeli army on Tuesday blocked roads and halted rail traffic near the Gaza border fence in preparation for a retaliatory attack following the overnight arrest of a senior Islamic Jihad member in the West Bank.

The Israel Defense Forces arrested Islamic Jihad commander Bassam al-Saadi overnight on Tuesday in the West Bank city of Jenin along with two more people in a raid in which one Palestinian was killed.

Footage of al-Saadi's arrest from nearby security cameras surfaced and were circulated online, where he was seen being dragged by soldiers after apparently being injured in an exchange of fire. Al-Saadi, 62 years old, is one of the Islamic Jihad's top officials in the West Bank. The IDF has arrested him several times in the past, amounting to a total of 15 years in Israeli prison.

Haaretz has learned that Egyptian intelligence officials are holding talks with the leaders of the factions in Gaza in order to prevent escalation and shooting from the Strip into Israeli territory following al-Saadi's arrest.

A senior Hamas delegation is expected in Cairo this week for talks with Egyptian officials, the Palestinian group's spokesman said. Both Hamas and Egyptian officials say the visit was planned in advance and will focus on humanitarian aid to the Strip.

However, officials in both Cairo and Gaza say the Egyptians are trying to prevent retaliation by Islamic Jihad militants. "If we make it through the first 24 hours quietly, it's a sign of calm," a senior Egyptian official told Haaretz, adding that all parties told Cairo they aren't looking for escalation.

The army also closed the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel and bolstered the Iron Dome missile defense system following intelligence assessments that the Islamic Jihad intends to retaliate immediately.

"All fighters are on high alert and ready to respond following the aggression against Bassam al-Saadi and his family members in Jenin," a spokesman for the Islamic Jihad's military arm said.

Senior Islamic Jihad member Khader Habib told Radio al-Shams that the group is considering how to respond to the events in Jenin and waiting to hear an update from the Egyptian mediators about the health condition of al-Saadi. Habib added that "If there will be a response, it will be coordinated with the Gaza faction, including Hamas."

Palestine Online, affiliated with the Islamic Jihad, published an interview before al-Saadi's arrest where he harshly criticized the security coordination arrangements between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

"The Palestinian people feel humiliated," he said. The conditions for an intifada, or uprising, to break out are ripe, al-Saadi told Palestine Online, warning that the situation could likely escalate in the near future.

Israel Defense Soldiers blocking traffic in Eshkol regional council near the Gaza border, on Tuesday.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

According to the Israel Defense Forces spokesperson, roads near Gaza will be blocked to over fears of rocket or sniper fire from the Gaza strip. Farmers working near the border were required to not come to their fields.

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The Eshkol Regional Council that borders the coastal enclave decided to cancel summer camps and extracurricular activities.

IDF, Shin Bet and Border Police have arrested and interrogated more than 50 Palestinians suspected of involvement in terror groups in the West Bank over the last days. Clashes between Palestinians and security forces erupted after 12 Palestinians were arrested on Tuesday night throughout the West Bank.

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