Israel Mulling Military Op in Gaza or Arrest Sweep in West Bank Amid Surge in Attacks - Media
Amid a spike in Israeli-Palestinian violence during the past several weeks, which has seen five major attacks within the Jewish state since March, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told his Cabinet on Sunday that Israel was entering a “new stage in the war on terror".
Israel is reportedly considering several options, including a broad military operation in the West Bank Palestinian city of Jenin, in response to a surge of deadly terror attacks that has left at least 20 civilians dead since March.
While Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is said to have favoured directly targeting the Gaza Strip or the West bank, Defence Minister Benny Gantz, supported by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), was inclined towards carrying out a broad arrest sweep in the West Bank, according to Channel 13 news.
The discussions, prompted by the heightened security challenge facing Israel in recent weeks, purportedly took place during a meeting with top security officials.
Jenin is believed to have been singled out during the “brainstorming” because most of the Palestinians who carried out the recent terror attacks came from the city or its surroundings.
This included two men arrested earlier in the day after a stabbing rampage in the Israeli city of Elad on 5 May, Israel's independence day, killing three and wounding several others. The tragic incident triggered condemnation from both Israel and the Palestinians.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet vowed that the terrorists would "pay the price", while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that “the killing of Palestinian and Israeli civilians will only lead to more deterioration".
After the attack, Bennett told his Cabinet on Sunday that Israeli forces captured “terrorists awash with incitement who killed with axes and unimaginable cruelty”, adding that Israel was entering a “new stage in the war on terror".
The goal of a sweeping military operation in Jenin would purportedly be to arrest suspects and prevent further attacks. Furthermore, Hebrew reports suggest that it might include additional arrest operations in other cities as a show of force across the West Bank.
On the other hand, an operation in the Gaza Strip would target the Hamas group. The Sunni militant organisation of Hamas controls Gaza and is in a protracted conflict with Tel Aviv. It has been declared a terrorist organisation in Israel, the United States, Canada, Japan, the European Union, and Australia. Israel has accused it of inciting Palestinians to stage attacks.
The reports cited in Hebrew media did not specify what a potential Gaza operation would entail.
8 May, 07:34 GMT
Following the reported meeting, the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) military liaison unit to the Palestinians announced that the shutdown of West Bank crossings, in place since last Tuesday, would end Sunday night.
Crossings had been closed for Palestinians into Israel on Tuesday and Wednesday for Memorial Day and Independence Day, and subsequently extended following the Elad attack. However, the main passage from the Gaza Strip - the Erez Crossing - would remain shut “until further notice.”
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar was cited by Channel 12 as saying that he had ordered his office to look into whether authorities can demolish the homes of terrorists even if they are citizens of Israel to deter possible future attackers.
Up until now, Israeli authorities have only implemented the policy against Palestinians in the West Bank.
Over the last few weeks, there has been a spike in Israeli-Palestinian violence, with Israeli police clashing with Palestinian protesters at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem - considered a holy site both in Judaism and Islam - during Ramadan, a religious holiday observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting and praying.