News Digest — 3/6/23

IDF To Place Purim Closure On West Bank As Tensions Rise Ahead Of Ramadan

A closure will be implemented on the West Bank over Purim, from Monday (6th) to Wednesday (8th), as tensions continue to rise after a series of terrorist attacks and IDF raids and ahead of the month of Ramadan which is set to begin at the end of March.

The closure will begin on Monday (6th) at 6 pm and continue until Wednesday (8th) at 11:59 p.m.  During the closure, commercial crossings will remain open and humanitarian and exceptional cases will be allowed through crossings as well with permission from COGAT.

On Sunday, (5th) the commander of the IDF’s Central Command, Yehuda Fuchs, met with leaders of cities and regional councils in the West Bank to hold a situational assessment.  Fuchs stressed the severity of the “nationalistic crimes.” that took place recently. Noting that these attacks needed to be clearly condemned.

Shortly before the meeting between the IDF and the settlement leaders was published, a number of settlement leaders including Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan, Binyamin Regional Council head Israel Ganz and Ariel mayor Eliyahu Shaviro, signed a letter calling for the government to take stronger action in the West Bank and calling on residents “not to take the law into their own hands.”

Additionally on Sunday (5th), signs reading “the intifada is already here” and “the Jews overcame their enemies” (a quote from the end of the Book of Esther) were put up in the northern West Bank.

Activists who put up the signs told Army Radio that “It’s time for the country to wake up before the situation gets worse.”

On Saturday night (4th), Khaled Mashaal, the head of Hamas’ foreign policy bureau, warned that the region is “on the verge of heated days” of violence and that the situation will escalate during Ramadan.

“Things are going to escalate in Ramadan, and we are on the verge of hot days due to the continued aggression and crimes of the occupation, and the Palestinian people know that there is no recovery for the homeland except through resistance in all its forms,” said Mashaal.

Mashaal’s statements come amid a wave of terrorist attacks and rising tension ahead of the month of Ramadan.  Three Israelis were murdered in two terror attacks last week.

On Sunday (5th), Palestinian prisoner movements announced that they would “escalate” their protest measures against recent measures implemented in the prisons by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, including refusing to undergo daily security checks.  The prisoners are also planning to launch a hunger strike at the beginning of Ramadan.

As Temple Mount activists call for Jews to visit the Mount on Purim and Shushan Purim, Marked from Monday night (6th) to Wednesday evening (8th) this week, Palestinian factions called for Palestinians to confront Jewish visitors.

“We call on our people in Jerusalem to make Tuesday (7th), Wednesday (8th), and all the days set by the occupation to attack al-Aqsa, days for mobilizing and tightening the bond to al-Aqsa to thwart the settlers’ incursion during the upcoming Jewish holidays,” said Hamas’ spokesperson for Jerusalem, Muhammad Hamada.

“The Temple Mount is open to Jewish visitors Sunday through Thursday (5th-9th) from 7 am-10:30 am and from 12:30 pm to 1:45 pm.

On Sunday (5th). Jordan’s Awqaf, Islamic Affairs and Holy Places Minister Mohamed al-Khalayleh stressed that Jordan would not allow “any division or change in the status quo” on the Temple Mount.

“Jordan, which offered martyrs and great sacrifices in defense of Palestine and Jerusalem in 1948 and 1967, will spare no effort in continuing to carry the trust in defending the Arabism and Islamism of Al-Quds Al Sharif (Jerusalem),” said Khalayleh, according to Petra News.  “Jordan, under the leadership of His Majesty the King, has always confronted attempts aimed at undermining al-Aqsa Mosque and imposing control over it.”

The Qatari envoy to the Gaza Strip, Mohammed al-Emadi arrived in Israel on Sunday night (5th) to speak with Israeli officials, before heading to Gaza in an attempt to lower tensions and prevent an escalation.  Emadi was originally supposed to visit last week, but that visit was postponed at the last minute.



Palestinian Authority Trying To Stop New Armed Group In West Bank

Palestinian Authority security forces are working to prevent a new armed group from operating in the northern West Bank city of Tulkarm, a senior Palestinian official said on Monday (6th).

Members of the new group, Tulkarm Battalion-Rapid Response, made their first public appearance two weeks ago after the Israeli security operation against gunmen belonging to the Nablus-based Lions’ Den.

Similar armed groups have been operating over the past year in Nablus and Jenin under the names of Nablus Battalion, Balata Battalion and Jenin Battalion.

Balata, the largest town, is located at the southern entrance to Nablus.

The three groups in Nablus, Balata and Jenin consist of a few hundred gunmen, mostly affiliated with the ruling Fatah faction, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas.

The emergence of the armed group in the relatively quiet city of Tulkarm worries some locals and Palestinian officials in Ramallah.

At this stage, however, it appears only a handful of gunmen have joined the Tulkarm Battalion-Rapid Response group.

The new group, according to local residents, is named after Raed al-Karmi, a prominent Fatah militant from Tulkarm who was killed by Israel in 2002.  Karmi was accused of involvement in a series of terror attacks that claimed the lives of at least 10 Israelis during the Second Intifada.

Karmi’s friends in Tulkarm called him “Rapid-Responder” because of the speed in which he used to carry out attacks in retaliation for the killing of his associates by the IDF.

Since the IDF’s four-hour operation in Nablus, resulting in the killing of 11 mostly terrorist gunmen, the Tulkarm group has claimed responsibility for three shooting attacks against soldiers and military installations.  No one was hurt.   

Palestinian security forces are moving quickly in Tulkarm to prevent the group from growing.

PA security officers have raided the home of a suspected leader who appeared in a video with his face covered.  However the suspect escaped.

A senior PA official told The Jerusalem Post three other men suspected of standing behind the new group were arrested by the PA’s Preventive Security Service in the past week.

“We will not tolerate scenes of anarchy and lawlessness in Tulkarm, as it is in Jenin and Nablus,” the official stressed.

In response to the crackdown, the Tulkarm-based armed group issued a statement that contained a direct threat to the PA security forces.

“Don’t be the first to betray your people,” the statement addressing Palestinian security officers, cautioned.  “We don’t want a confrontation with you because you are our brothers and cousins.  Stop chasing and following us.  We’re not calling into question your patriotism, but we have no confidence in your leadership.”

While some residents expressed satisfaction over the PA security forces’ clampdown on the gunmen in Tulkarm, others lashed out at the Ramallah-based leadership for “collaboration with Israel.”

“We don’t want to become like Jenin and Nablus,” said Ala’ al-Sharif, a Tulkarm shopkeeper.  “The armed groups in the two cities have caused great damage to the economy.  Thousands of Arab Israelis who used to do their shopping in Nablus and Jenin are now coming to Tulkarm because the situation here is calm.  The merchants in Nablus and Jenin are crying.”

A senior Tulkarm Municipality official told the Post that several merchants and businessmen have expressed concern  over the possibility that their city could end up witnessing major fighting and IDF raids because of the presence of the new militia in the city.  



Netanyahu To IAEA Director: Are We Permitted To Defend Ourselves?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly criticized International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) Director Rafael Grossi for claiming that an Israeli military attack on Iran’s nuclear weapons program would be illegal under international law.

“International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi just said in Tehran that an Israeli attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities is against the law.  Rafael Grossi is a worthy gentleman who said something unworthy.  Against which law?  Is Iran, which openly calls for our destruction, permitted to defend the destructive weapons that would slaughter us?  Are we permitted to defend ourselves?  It is clear that we are and it is clear that we will do so.  And we will do so in discussions or actions around the clock, which I will not detail here, of course,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday afternoon (5th).

He added: “I say this because nothing will deter us from defending our country and preventing our enemies from eliminating the state of the Jews.  We are on the eve of Purim.  2,500 years ago an enemy arose in Persia who sought to destroy the Jews.  They did not succeed then, nor will they succeed today.  I wish the entire people of Israel a Happy Purim.”

Grossi said Saturday (4th) upon returning from a trip to Tehran that “any military attack on a nuclear facility is outlawed, is out of the normative structures that we all abide by.”

Grossi also said he had held “constructive” talks with Iranian officials after the discovery of uranium particles enriched to near weapons-grade level.



Netanyahu Meets Slovakian Prime Minister In Jerusalem

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on Sunday (5th) with Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger in Jerusalem.

During the meeting, the two leaders discussed deepening the cooperation between Israel and Slovakia, especially in technology, innovation and tourism, as well as regional issues.

Netanyahu emphasized the need to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.  They also discussed opportunities for expanding the circle of peace in the continuation of the Abraham Accords.

Netanyahu and Heger first met privately and then held an expanded meeting.

Also participating in the meeting were Slovakian State Secretary of the Ministry of Finance Lubos Jancik, State Secretary of the Ministry of Defense Marian Majer and First State Secretary of the Ministry of Economy Peter Svec, as well as Israeli Ambassador to Slovakia Eitan Lev-On and Slovakian Ambassador to Israel Igor Mauks.

“Prime Minister Heger, I’m very happy to welcome you here.  Slovakia and Israel have excellent relations which are improving all the time in every field.  So I hope these conversations will enable us to take it forward even more,” Netanyahu said.

“We are happy to cooperate with you on security and prosperity for both countries, and I look forward to doing more,” he added



Altercation Between Israel, Lebanon Troops

Lebanese media reported about an altercation between Lebanese military troops and the IDF on the Israeli-Lebanon border, Sunday (5th) which included a heated exchange between the commanding officers of both sides.

The incident took place while the Israeli forces were marking the boundary line between the countries.

Border marking is a routine occurrence and is coordinated with United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) but is often disrupted by Lebanese activists and operatives from the Iran-backed Hezbollah group, who film the IDF soldiers and attempt to provoke them.

A spokesman for UNIFIL told the Lebanese news outlet L’Orient that it was aware of tensions in the area of Aita al-Shaab, where some Israeli maintenance works were taking place and the UN troops were there to de-escalate the situation.

“We urge all parties, and all those present on the ground, to maintain calm.  Any kind of work near the Blue Line is extremely sensitive, and we ask all parties to coordinate through UNIFIL to avoid unnecessary tension,” the spokesperson said.

According to Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV, L’Orient on Sunday (6th) also reported that tensions flared after one of the Lebanese officers pushed an Israeli soldier and then removed an iron stake placed in the ground, “in violation of the Blue Line.”

The IDF denied that there was any physical confrontation between the forces of both countries.  Dozens of men gathered on the Lebanese side of the border fence, some of them armed.

“They tried to interfere with IDF operations near the border, but the forces continued as planned, in coordination with UNIFIL forces present. 

“The IDF will not allow any attempt to violate the sovereignty of the State of “Israel,” a military spokesperson said.