The IDF placed a closure on Nablus on Wednesday, limiting entry and exit to only a few roads and imposing security checks following a rise in shooting attacks by the Lions’ Den terrorist group.
The IDF said the decision to close the roads “is part of the increased security activity in the Nablus area.”
Individuals will be permitted to leave on certain roads and only after a “strict security check.”
It is unclear how long the closure will last. Settlers have been calling for weeks for the army to shut down Nablus and have held multiple rallies at its entryway.
Palestinian WAFA news agency reported that troops also blocked the entrance to the nearby town of Deir Sharaf, and several other villages, with dirt mounds. The Huwara and Awarta checkpoints have also been closed.
Nablus is home to 170,000 people, and a lockdown of the city is expected not only to affect residents but Palestinians from neighboring towns who come to the city for commerce.
The lockdown comes after 21-year-old St.-Sgt. Ido Baruch from the Givati reconnaissance unit was killed Tuesday in a drive-by shooting near the Shavei Shomron settlement. The attack, along with another shooting attack several hours later, was claimed by the Lions’ Den from Nablus.
The terrorist group, established in recent weeks as a response to the ongoing arrest raids in the area by the IDF’s Operation Break the Wave, has claimed a number of shooting attacks in the northern West Bank.
In return, the IDF has been focusing its operations in Nablus and nearby villages against gunmen belonging to the group, including an arrest operation on Yom Kippur, which saw heavy gunfire leveled at troops.
The Palestinian arrested, Salman Omran, is suspected of carrying out a shooting attack on an Israeli bus and taxi last week.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz vowed that security forces would capture the gunmen who escaped the scene and that the IDF’s operations in the West Bank would “continue and intensify in order to provide security to the citizens of Israel.”
“We are expanding our operations against terrorism in Judea and Samaria. We will get our hands on the terrorists and those who sent them, and we will dismantle the ‘nests’ of terrorism [in the area]. We are determined and we will defeat this terrorism.”
Tensions are rising within the West Bank
Baruch was the second soldier killed in the past week. Sgt. Noa Lazar, 18, from Bat Hefer, was killed Saturday after 22-year-old Udai Tamimi from Jerusalem’s Shuafat refugee camp opened fire on her and a group of security guards at point-blank range after exiting a car at the crossing.
Security forces are still searching for the gunmen in both attacks.
The police believe that while Tamimi is in Shuafat, he hopes to escape to the West Bank, and they have therefore blocked all roads leading to the camp. The Shuafat crossing, which is used by thousands of people, has been blocked for the fifth day.
The nearby Palestinian town of Anata has also been sealed by troops to prevent Tamimi from escaping.
Clashes erupted in several cities over the closure of Shuafat, with several Palestinians injured. In Bethlehem, a 22-year-old was hit in the eye with a rubber bullet during clashes with Israeli security forces, and evacuated to the hospital for medical treatment.
Clashes also broke out in the el-Aroub refugee camp near Hebron. The IDF fatally shot Osama Mahmoud Adawi, 18, during those clashes, WAFA reported. The army said it had shot at a Palestinian who had been throwing stones at Route 60 in that area but said it did not know if it had fired a fatal shot.
With tensions high in the West Bank, the military was expected to escort a limited number of Jewish worshipers to Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus on Wednesday. The entry was subject to a situational assessment. There have been repeated Palestinian shooting attacks against worshipers at the tomb.
Also, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) revealed on Wednesday that they had thwarted a cell of four West Bank residents who had been in contact with Hamas in the Gaza Strip to carry out shooting attacks against Israelis.
The suspects were in contact with Bilal Basharat, who had been released as part of the Gilad Schalit prisoner deal. Basharat, originally from Tubas, was deported to the Gaza Strip and works to promote Hamas’s activities in the West Bank.
According to the Shin Bet investigation, Basharat directed the suspects to purchase weapons and collect intelligence in the area to carry out shooting attacks against civilians and troops.
The operatives were arrested and a weapon that they had purchased as well as terror funds were also confiscated and seized.
“Many operatives belonging to terror organizations in the Gaza Strip have been found to be exploiting Palestinians in the West Bank to promote terror activities,” the agency said.
“Meanwhile Hamas operatives in the Gaza Strip transfer funds and arms to operatives in the West Bank to carry out attacks against Israeli targets. Security forces will continue to act with determination to arrest those involved in terror activity against Israeli citizens and IDF soldiers, and bring them to justice.”
In addition, the IDF said that along with the Shin Bet, they had thwarted an attempt to smuggle 10 handguns in the Jordan Valley. Troops arrested the suspects and confiscated their handguns.
Recent data from the Shin Bet found that in September, there were 34 shooting attacks in the West Bank and Jerusalem. The data marked a 47% increase from the 23 shooting attacks in August and a 126% increase from 15 in July.
According to the agency, there were 212 terror attacks in September compared to 172 in August, a rise of 23%. Meanwhile, July saw 113 and June 147 attacks.
Some 19 Israelis and two Ukrainians have been killed in Palestinian terror attacks since the start of the year. Close to 100 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces, many of whom were engaged in violent riots or in attacks against Israelis.
Increased violence in the West Bank
The Binyamin Regional Council reported on Wednesday that a Palestinian had thrown a Molotov cocktail at the settlement of Halamish, which sparked a fire outside the community.
The left-wing group Yesh Din reported that right-wing Israeli extremists and settlers had attacked Palestinians in the aftermath of Baruch’s death. It charged that those extremists had stoned homes in the village of Sinjil and Hawara and attacked Palestinian vehicles in the West Bank, including at the Kedumim and Shiloh intersections. At the latter location, the driver was injured and taken to the hospital, according to Yesh Din. A Palestinian was also injured in the head by Israeli extremists at the Yitzhar intersection.
On Wednesday night, both Yesh Din and WAFA reported that Israeli extremists had burned two chicken coops in the Kusra village near Nablus and that Palestinians were shot in clashes that broke out after the IDF arrived.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.