Road restrictions near the Gaza Strip remained in place for a second day on Wednesday, as Israel warned terror groups based in the enclave that it would respond forcefully to any revenge attacks following the arrest of a terrorist leader.
Meanwhile, reports said efforts were underway to ease tensions following the overnight capture of Bassem Saadi, who heads Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the West Bank.
Roads around Gaza were closed Tuesday morning and locals were ordered to stay close to shelters for fear of rocket or anti-tank missile attacks in revenge for Saadi’s arrest.
In a message to residents, the regional councils of Sdot Negev and Eshkol said late Tuesday that all road closures would remain until at least Wednesday, following an assessment by the Israel Defense Forces.
Authorities previously said the restriction could be lifted if the night passed peacefully. It was not immediately clear what prompted the change in policy.
Multiple Hebrew and Palestinian media reports on Tuesday night said Egyptian mediators had entered Gaza in an attempt to deter Islamic Jihad from any revenge attacks.
As fears of an imminent attack raged, Channel 12 reported that Israeli officials had delivered a message via Egypt to leaders of Islamic Jihad and Hamas, which rules the Palestinian enclave, that Jerusalem was not not interested in another round of fighting, but would respond harshly to any infringement or violation of its sovereignty.
The reports have not been attributed to sources. Military officials often pass messages through Israeli media while insisting on complete anonymity.
Tensions around the Gaza Strip increased throughout Tuesday after Saadi was arrested in Jenin overnight.
The arrest and videos that showed him being taken away by soldiers stoked Palestinian anger and rumors that he had been killed.
Saadi was captured by forces in Jenin along with his son-in-law and aide, Ashraf al-Jada, and another member of the terror group was killed in a shootout with troops.
According to some Palestinian reports, Saadi was injured after being bitten by a military dog during his arrest.
The IDF later leaked footage to reporters that appeared to show Saadi in good condition, in a bid to ease tensions.
The military’s alert level along the border with the Gaza Strip remained high Tuesday afternoon, although several roads closed earlier as a precaution were reopened, the Israel Defense Forces said.
In response to Saadi’s arrest, the Gaza-based group announced in a statement that it was declaring a state of “vigilance” and increasing the “readiness” of its fighters.
On Tuesday morning, the IDF said it had ordered the closure of several major highways, train lines and viewpoints along the Gaza border, following an upsurge in activity by Islamic Jihad-linked fighters who posed an imminent and “direct threat.” of a possible attack. on Israeli civilians.
Imminent threats included possible anti-tank guided missile fire, sniper attacks, and rocket fire.
In the afternoon, the IDF issued an update on road closures, saying that road 232 between Mefalsim and Sa’ad and access roads for nearby farmers were closed, but that the road between Sa’ad and Kerem Shalom had been reopened to traffic.
Routes 242 and 2410 were also closed, as were Route 4 from Zikim Junction to Erez Junction and Route 34 between Yad Mordechai Junction and Nir Am Junction.
All towns along the border have alternate exit routes, except for Kerem Shalom and Kibbutz Nahal Oz, which have been blocked entirely due to restrictions.
The IDF also closed the Erez crossing to pedestrians entering and leaving Gaza. The border checkpoint is used daily by thousands of Palestinian workers.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid conducted an assessment of the situation with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, IDF chief Aviv Kohavi, head of the Shin Bet security agency Ronen Bar, national security adviser Eyal Hulata, Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other officials.
Gantz, who visited the West Bank security fence area with Kohavi on Tuesday, warned against attempts to harm Israelis. “Any threat against the citizens of Israel will be met with a powerful response and we will of course be prepared for any scenario,” he said.
Channel 12 also reported that Israeli troops were also on high alert in the West Bank, amid the possibility of Islamic Jihad attempting an attack there.
According to the Shin Bet, Saadi, 61, has been jailed and released seven times by Israel over the years.
The Shin Bet said that in recent months, Saadi had “worked even harder to restore the PIJ’s activities, and was behind the creation of a large military force for the organization in [the northern West Bank] in general and in Jenin in particular.
“His presence was an important factor in radicalizing ISIS operatives in the field,” the Shin Bet added.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) August 2, 2022
Jenin is widely considered a hotbed of terrorist activity. Gunmen and other assailants behind several deadly terror attacks earlier this year came from the town and its refugee camp.
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