IDF road closures next to Gaza continue for a second day

PIJ commander Bassam al-Saadi and his son-in-law Ashraf Zidan Molmad Aljada arrested • Roads near Gaza Strip closed

 Israeli soldiers block roads near the border with the Gaza Strip on August 2, 2022. (photo credit: FLASH90)
Israeli soldiers block roads near the border with the Gaza Strip on August 2, 2022.
(photo credit: FLASH90)

Road closures close to the Gaza border will continue for the second day in a row on Wednesday over concerns that Palestinian Islamic Jihad might target Israeli vehicles in retaliation for the arrest of a senior operative in the West Bank.

Israeli security forces arrested Bassem Saadi, the head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the West Bank overnight on Monday during a raid in Jenin. Following his arrest the IDF raised its alert level in the south and closed roads close to the border with the Gaza Strip to civilian vehicles.

PIJ commander Bassam al-Saadi and his son-in-law Ashraf Zidan Molmad Aljada were arrested in a raid that saw heavy clashes break out with local Palestinians. Saadi resisted arrest and was slightly injured when he was bitten by a dog deployed with security forces.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid held a security situation assessment on Tuesday morning with Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, National Security Adviser Eyal Haluta, Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Ronen Bar and other senior security officials.

Which roads will be closed?

Over concern that the group might retaliate with anti-tank or sniper fire, the IDF closed off roads along the Gaza Strip shortly after Saadi’s arrest. The IDF said in a statement that the decision was taken following a situational assessment and due to moves by operatives belonging to the terrorist group.

 Road and train closures near Gaza Strip, August 2nd, 2022. (credit: IDF) Road and train closures near Gaza Strip, August 2nd, 2022. (credit: IDF)

“The areas will be closed to traffic for fear of a direct threat and in order to prevent possible harm to civilians,” the military said.

All roads heading west of route 232 had been closed in both directions, as well as Route 4 from the Zikim Junction to the Erez crossing, Route 34 from Yad Mordechai Junction to the Nir Am Crossing, and Route 232 from Nir Am to Kerem Shalom.

Later on Tuesday, the section of road 232 between Sa’ad and Kerem Shalom was reopened, although the rest of the named roads will remain closed on Wednesday.

Zikim Beach, which lies just north of the Strip, has also been closed to visitors, and train service between Ashkelon and Sderot has been canceled. The Erez crossing, the main crossing between Israel and Gaza, has also been closed. In addition, the Black Arrow monument, Givat Kobi Lookout in Sderot, the Hill of the Bells (Givat Ha’Pamonim) in Nir Am, and Givat Nazmit in Mefalsim have also been closed.

Classes at Sapir College in Sderot will take place online.

A spokesman for the group’s military wing, the Al-Quds Brigades, said, “All the organization’s forces are on high alert and ready to respond following the aggression against Sheikh Bassam al-Saadi and his family in Jenin.”

"All the organization's forces are on high alert and ready to respond following the aggression against Sheikh Bassam al-Saadi and his family in Jenin."

Al-Quds Brigades Spokesperson

PIJ is known to have anti-tank guided missiles, and has targeted both civilian and military vehicles, killing Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers.

During the arrest, clashes broke out with local Palestinians, and three were injured. The Palestinian Authority’s Health Ministry said that 17-year-old Dirar al-Kafrayni was killed in the clashes after he threw an explosive device toward troops.

Gantz: Any threat to the citizens of Israel will be met with a powerful response

Defense Minister Benny Gantz stressed on Tuesday that Israel’s policy is “clear,” saying, “Those who want to work and live in good neighborliness will receive an outstretched hand. With the other hand we will hit anyone who wants to harm the citizens of Israel and carry out terrorism.

“The IDF, the Shin Bet and Border Police will continue their operational activities, with all tools and in all arenas. Any threat to the citizens of Israel will be met with a powerful response and we will of course be prepared for any scenario.”

Who is Bassam al-Saadi and why was he arrested? 

Saadi, 62, was previously detained seven times by Israel for his role as PIJ’s top leader in the West Bank and his role in terrorism. He has served 15 years in Israeli prisons. Two of his sons, also part of the terrorist group, were killed by the Israeli military during the Second Intifada.

According to the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, the cousin of Raad Abu Hazzam, who killed three Israelis in Tel Aviv in April, is married to Saadi.

The Shin Bet said that Saadi was recently working hard “to restore the Islamic Jihad’s operations, in which he was instrumental in establishing a strong military force in Samaria in general and in Jenin in particular. His presence was a significant factor in radicalizing the organization’s operatives.”

Jenin, with its refugee camp, is one of the more violent cities in the West Bank with heavily armed militants from PIJ and other terrorist groups. Dozens of Palestinians have been arrested there by the IDF as part of Operation Break the Wave, and during every arrest raid, heavily armed militants opened fire on Israeli forces leading to Palestinian casualties.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, Israeli security personnel arrested 12 other Palestinians on suspicion of taking part in terrorist acts. Over the last few days, a total of 50 Palestinians have been arrested and interrogated by the Shin Bet.

Tzvi Joffre and Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.