image Photo: Flash90

Israel ups holiday security

Measures have been taken due to the current wave of Palestinian violence that shows no sign of subsiding.

By Erin Viner

Israel has bolstered its police and border police presence throughout the Old City in Jerusalem to ensure safety to residents and visitors. With a year-long escalation of Israeli-Palestinian violence, tensions are running especially high in the Holy Land as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish Passover coincide.

“Today, thousands of Israel Border Police and police officers have been strategically spread out throughout the city of Jerusalem in order to ensure the safe flow and the freedom of movement of all those coming to visit,” said Police International Spokesman Master Sergeant Dean Elsdunne. “We have various events taking place today and Israel police are spread out to ensure that all the worshipers can attend these events safely and without any worry in their mind. Israel police are going to continue ensuring the safety and the freedom of movement without letting anyone violate the unique fabric of life that we see today in the Old City of Jerusalem,” he added.

The announcement was followed by new directives issued by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, following his holding of a comprehensive assessment focused on Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem and the Temple Mount with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, as well as the heads of the security services.

According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the orders were given for the deployment of all operational forces as necessary to protect worshippers going to the Western Wall and the routes leading to it.

The statement also said it had been decided to prohibit non-Muslims from ascending to the Temple Mount based on “the unanimous recommendation of the Defense Minister, the IDF Chief of Staff, Israel Security Agency (ISA, Shin Bet) Director and the Israel Police Inspector General.”

The halt of all visitation by non-Muslims is expected to remain in until the end of Ramadan, around 20 April.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque area is the most sensitive site in the generations-old conflict with Israel. It was built atop the ruins of both biblical temples, considered by the Jewish People as the holiest site in the world and also revered to Christians. The compound is Islam’s third most sacred site after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Even though Israel regards the entirety of of Jerusalem as its eternal capital and the center of the Jewish faith, it has observed the “Status Quo” arrangement that existed prior to its reunification of Jerusalem following the 1967 Six Day War, that bars Jewish prayer at the compound as not to ‘inflame Muslim anger.’ Religious worship on the al-Aqsa compound is restricted to Muslims, while Jews pray at the Western Wall nearby.

Prime Minister Netanyahu also commended the Israel Police for the manner in which it has operated at the holy site during the holidays, as well as the nation’s security forces “for their many counterterrorist operations and actions to protect the citizens of Israel, which saved many lives.”

It is important to note that in recent days, tensions on the Temple Mount had seemingly alleviated.

While Palestinian youth continued to barricade themselves within the Al Aqsa mosque following the nightly Islamic Tarawih prayers, Jerusalem District Police Commander Doron Turgeman decided not to forcibly evict them in recent nights. This, after intelligence sources confirmed rocks and fireworks were no longer being brought into the mosque for use against non-Muslim visitors to the Temple Mount during designated times on the following mornings.

Last week, Jerusalem police were forced to raid the flashpoint compound, a tinderbox in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, triggered rocket attacks from Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, south Lebanon and Syria that prompted retaliatory Israeli air and artillery strikes.

Under the longstanding “status quo” arrangement governing the holy site, non-Muslims can visit but only Muslims are allowed to worship.

“Regarding to the Temple Mount, we have a permanent policy to enable visits… more accurately, to enable freedom of worship to Muslims and to enable visits of Jews and non-Jews to the Temple Mount. This is permanent. Nothing has changed and it will not change. We do, however, make daily assessments regarding the security and intelligence situation,” Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterated.

Minister Ben-Gvir, who enraged the Arab and Muslim world by visiting the Temple Mount in January, strongly denounced the ban. “When terrorism strikes us we must strike back with great force, not surrender to its whims,” he insisted in a statement.

In related developments, Israel’s defense establishment has ratcheted-up efforts to root-out terror elements throughout the West Bank districts of Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley, with chief focus on preventing imminent attacks.

As part of Operation Waves Breaker,  IDFISA and Border Police Special Operations units conducted extensive counter-terror activities, during which 12 suspected terror operatives were apprehended.

Acting on concrete ISA intelligence, the Paratroopers Reconnaissance and Duvdevan Commando Special IDF Forces and the undercover Yamas unit of the Border Police thwarted a terror cell in the Palestinian city of Jenin that was conspiring to launch attacks in the immediate future. Local gunmen shot at the Israeli forces during the mission, who returned fire. While several hits against the terrorists were identified, there were no reported injuries to the Israeli forces, who ultimately captured all five wanted suspects.

In a separate incident, Palestinian terrorists carried out a drive-by shooting at an IDF post by the Elon Moreh settlement east of the city Nablus, a frequent area of clashes. Two of the gunmen were shot by troops of the Intelligence Gathering Brigade 636 conducting nearby operational activity. A subsequent manhunt in search of the additional suspects who managed to flee the scene resulted in the discovery and confiscation of a large illegal weapons cache.

The Lion’s Den alliance of Palestinian terror groups confirmed both fatalities as members.