Fears of clashes on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount on Sunday’s Tisha B’Av fast have reportedly led Israeli political and security echelons to maintain widespread road closures along the Gaza border throughout the weekend.
The closures have been in place since Tuesday after the IDF arrested Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank, Bassam Saadi, the night before. Security officials insisted the precautionary measures were necessary because of widespread reports that the PIJ is seeking to target Israeli civilians and soldiers in retaliation for Saadi’s arrest.
But Gaza border residents were losing patience on Thursday, with some bracing for a fourth consecutive day they were unable to leave their towns.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid said on Thursday that the closures would not last much longer, but Channel 12 reported that the government was to leave the closures in place until at least the end of Tisha B’Av on Sunday evening amid the fears of a tank-guided anti-missile or sniper attack by the PIJ.
The unsourced report says political and security decision makers are particularly concerned about what might happen on the Temple Mount during the fast day. Previous Tisha B’Avs have seen more than 1,000 Jewish pilgrims visit the powder keg site which has been at the center of repeated rounds of Israeli-Palestinian violence in recent months and years.
Israel does not view such visits as a violation of an arrangement known as the “standstill quo,” which is used to help dictate conduct on the site. The policy allows Muslims to visit and pray on the Temple Mount, while non-Muslims are only allowed to visit. But the Palestinians view such a high number of Jewish visitors as a violation of the status quo.
The increase in the number of Jewish visitors has not only taken place in Tisha B’Av but throughout the year, as public opinion has shifted – particularly in the national religious camp – in favor of the practice. This is primarily due to a growing belief that equates the Jewish presence on the Temple Mount with Israeli sovereignty over the site, widely considered the holiest place for Jews, where two temples once stood and where the biblical patriarch Abraham almost sacrificed his son. Isaac before God intervenes.
To Muslims, the site is known as Haram al-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary. Home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, it is generally considered the third holiest site in Islam, from where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. Some consider the entire 36-acre esplanade a mosque. Although now Muslims pray towards Mecca, for a time they too prayed towards the Temple Mount. In addition to its religious significance, the site has immense cultural and national significance for Palestinians.
Visitations by Jews also increasingly included prayers — sometimes in a college setting, but more often by individuals. Such conduct was once prohibited by Israeli police accompanying Jewish visitors to the site, but footage in recent years has shown officers allowing the often silent prayers to continue, which the Palestinians say demonstrated a further deterioration of the status quo.
There were no reports on Thursday evening of Israeli plans to limit Jewish visits to the Temple Mount, but Channel 12 news said fears of another flare-up in violence at the site had led the IDF to suspend strikes in the area. the Gaza Strip in recent days in response. PIJ threats and increased activity along the border.
In response to Saadi’s arrest, the Gaza-based PIJ announced in a statement on Tuesday that it was declaring a state of “vigilance” and increasing the “readiness” of its fighters.
As Gaza’s ruling Hamas has carried out a number of arrests of PIJ members in a bid to maintain calm in the Gaza Strip, Channel 12 has reported that the Israeli security echelon fears that he does not take advantage of tensions in Jerusalem as he has done in the past. , opening a wave of violence on several fronts.
Earlier Thursday, the IDF announced it was bolstering its forces near the Gaza Strip amid widespread road closures over fears of an imminent PIJ revenge attack. Over the past few days, the IDF has worked to thwart attempts by Islamic Jihad squads to launch such an attack on the border, by flying armed drones over the strip.
The IDF also closed the Erez crossing to pedestrians entering and leaving Gaza. The border checkpoint is used daily by thousands of Palestinian workers.
Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report