IDF seals off West Bank, Gaza during Purim

The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday night placed a general closure over the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip that will last for the duration of Purim. The holiday begins Thursday evening and lasts until Sunday. Police have also increased their level of alert in the lead-up to Purim and thousands of officers reinforced by Civil Guard volunteers and IDF soldiers were deployed as of Wednesday morning in crowded locations and vacations sites across the country. In related news, militants detonated a bomb adjacent to an IDF patrol in Nablus before dawn Wednesday, damaging a vehicle but causing no injuries. Overnight Wednesday, Israeli security forces arrested four wanted Palestinian militants in the West Bank. Troops arrested three Hamas activists in Qalqilyah and a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was arrested east of Abu Dis. IDF: PA foiling as many terror attacks as Israel As the army was handing over the Tul Karm area to the Palestinian Authority Tuesday morning, Military Intelligence’s research chief, Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, was telling the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that PA forces are foiling as many terror incidents as Israeli forces. But Kuperwasser, like Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon, who spoke after him, noted that the PA is not yet taking proactive steps to collect arms from the gunmen of the armed organizations, as PA policy gradually is to bring the armed men into newly reformed PA security forces. Ya’alon complained to the MKs that the reforms have not begun in earnest, and that the PA is now saying it will need six to eight months to complete the restructuring. Like Kuperwasser, Ya’alon said that the PA forces are foiling terror attacks whenever they learn about a cell’s intention to conduct an attack. BPI-info

Kuperwasser said they had managed to shut down 18 smuggling tunnels in Rafah, but Ya’alon told the MKs that “the PA is not fighting the terror infrastructure and is not collecting the weapons in the hands of the terror groups.” Meanwhile, in Tul Karm, Israel completed its handover of the town to PA control, unlocking a key gate that had blocked traffic between the town and main points in the West Bank. The handover was sealed with a handshake between the Israeli and Palestinian commanders in the area. The process began on Monday night after the sides reached an agreement that two villages north of Tul Karm would remain in Israeli hands for the next few weeks. The two villages, Tseida and Ilar, are believed to have been the launching arena for the suicide bombing in Tel Aviv in February that killed five. Under terms of the agreement reached between Israel and the PA, the IDF will avoid entering the town. On Tuesday morning the IDF removed its roadblock on the road between the city and the nearby village of Anabta. Since spring 2002’s Operation Defensive Shield, Palestinians had to drive a seven-kilometer loop to get onto the main road that connected Tul Karm with Nablus, the biggest city in the West Bank. Nablus is still not slated for handing over because Israel considers it a center of terror activity. The transfer could help PA officials carry out a new PA government directive restricting weapons in the hands of militants, who insist they’ll comply only if Israel withdraws from West Bank towns. Tul Karm is the second Palestinian town Israel has handed over to the PA, following Jericho last week, and Qalqilyah, Bethlehem and Ramallah are next in line. “Now we’ll have traffic cops, we won’t have the chaos in the streets that we have today,” said Nashat Salem, 46, owner of an electronics store in the center of town. “They’ll be able to stop cars from being stolen, and movement in and out of the town will become easier now that they’ve removed the gate. But on the path to peace, I’m not so sure we’re going anywhere.” Palestinian gunmen will benefit the most, because Israel has agreed not to chase them as long as they remain in the town – and don’t get involved in planning terror attacks. “Tonight is the first night I’ll sleep at home without worrying the army is going to come banging on my door,” said Husni Abu Zgheib, 30, of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. Also Tuesday, several thousand Hamas supporters marched through the streets of Nablus to mark the anniversary of Israel’s assassination of their spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, last year in an airstrike. The marchers filled the center of town, waving green Hamas flags and singing songs. Dozens of masked militants marched with the crowd but did not carry guns. BPI-info