image Photo: Flash90, IDF

Israeli security high ahead of Passover

Several measures are being taken to ensure safety during celebration of the Jewish festival amid an ongoing wave of terror attacks.

By Erin Viner

Observance of the Passover holiday is set to begin at sundown tomorrow evening.

A full closure has been imposed on all crossings into the Palestinian territories, as is routine for Passover and Israeli Independence Day.

The Head of the Unit for Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Major General Rassan Alian, announced that following an assessment of the security situation, Defense Minister Benny Gantz has decided on a series of steps that will affect the residents of northern Samaria, while continuing the present policy toward the rest of the Judea and Samaria (West Bank) area.

The IDF has increased deployment to West Bank cities due to intelligence reports of impending terror attacks. Hundreds of special forces have been stationed in and around major Israeli cities, in addition to both sides of the seam line with Judea and Samaria.

IDF troops from the training units of special forces – including the Commando Brigade and Reconnaissance division – have been assigned to assist national police. At least 1,000 soldiers have so far been stationed in major cities, including an estimated 300 commandos in Jerusalem alone.

The Security Cabinet unanimously allocated ₪  360 million-shekel (about $11.7m or €102.4m) for a plan submitted by Defense Minister Gantz to build an additional 40 kilometers (nearly 25 miles) of the “seam line barrier” with the Palestinian Authority (PA). A statement from the Ministry of Defense Spokesperson specified that reinforcement of the security barrier begin as soon as possible, stretching from the Salem area in northern Samaria to the Bat Hefer region. It will be constructed of concrete, protective equipment, and additional technological components, reaching up to 9 meters (almost 10 yards) high.

In other pro-active measures, the Israeli Cabinet has approved a proposal by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Welfare and Social Affairs Minister Meir Cohen to investigate legal grounds to revoke state benefits from terrorists or their families.

Security forces have been on high alert following a series of attacks that have killed 14 people in Israel since late March, in the deadliest outbreak of terrorism since 2006. A Bedouin Arab murdered four people in a stabbing and car ramming attack in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba on 22 March, followed by the deadly shooting of two victims by two Arab gunmen in the central city of Hadera on 27 March. Israeli authorities said all of the assailants, who were killed during their deadly attacks, were loyal to Islamic State terror group. Five other people were shot to death in Bnei Brak on 29 March in an attack that was not claimed by any armed group, though residents of the West Bank village of Ya’bad linked the assailant to the Fatah party lead by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Three more Israelis were murdered by a Palestinian gunman in Tel Aviv on 7 April.

Israeli Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev has warned that the nation’s defense forces “will not hesitate to embark on more extensive military operations” in any area that constitutes “fertile ground for terrorism.”

While expressing pride in the Israel Police, which he said “is currently at the forefront of the fight against terrorism” that is “once again raising its head with utter contempt and cruelty,” Bar-Lev stressed: “This is also the place to make clear to our enemies: the State of Israel and its security forces, including the Israel Police, will chase you down everywhere, day and night, and reach you. Anyone who seeks to harm us must know that their days are numbered.”

According to military and police statements, about 20 Palestinians described as terror suspects were detained in operations yesterday; including three whom the Israeli Security Agency (ISA, Shin Bet) said were conspiring to carry out an imminent attack against Israelis.

Meanwhile, Palestinian violence continues to rage across the West Bank. Three Palestinians were reportedly shot and killed during clashes with IDF troops yesterday during the ongoing arrest raids for wanted terrorists.

A 14-year-old near Palestinian was killed near Bethlehem after throwing a firebomb at Israeli soldiers, who responded with “live ammunition in order to stop the immediate threat,” said the IDF.

In a separate incident, a Palestinian was killed by Israeli military gunfire in Nablus on a main street near Joseph’s Tomb, which is being renovated by Israel following torching of the shrine by a Palestinian mob earlier this week. Israeli troops had secured the area around the tomb while the repair work was under way, where hundreds of Palestinians hurled rocks and firebombs at the soldiers, who responded with live fire and riot dispersal measures.

According to the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, an “armed suspect” was hit near the West Bank city. The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the assailant as Mohammed Assaf, 34, a lawyer who worked for a department of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Another Palestinian was reportedly killed in clashes that erupted after Israeli forces carried out an arrest raid near Ramallah, although there has been no immediate confirmation of the incident by the Israeli military or police. Footage showed dozens of Palestinians throwing rocks at Israeli armored vehicles and occasional gunfire could be heard.

The Israeli military stepped up its raids in the West Bank following attacks by two Palestinians from the territory and three members of Israel’s Arab minority which have killed 14 people in Israel since late March.

Israel has accused the Palestinian Authority of not doing enough to rein in militants and of encouraging violence against Israelis as part of its so-called “Martyr’s Fund” for imprisoned Palestinians or the families of deceased Palestinians who committed terrorist acts; derisively-known as a “pay to slay” program that awards monthly payments based on the severity of the crime.

The bloodshed has coincided with the start of Muslim observance of the Ramadan holy month. There have been near-nightly confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli police at the flashpoint Damascus Gate entrance into Jerusalem’s Old City, heightening concerns over a repeat of violence that erupted last year.  Rampant violence in the capital in 2021 prompted full scale fighting with Gaza when Palestinian terror groups based in the territory fired more than 4,000 rockets at the Jewish State during the ensuing 11-day  Operation Guardian of the Walls last May.