Military says there is no threat to Israeli communities near the Strip or special safety instructions to residents of the area
By Judah Ari Gross 19 Oct 2020, 11:50 am
The Israel Defense Forces put up a series of barricades on highways and roads near the southern Gaza Strip on Monday as it performed an unspecified “engineering operation” along the border.
Despite the precautionary move, the military said there was no immediate threat to Israeli communities near the border.
“At this time, an engineering operation is being conducted by IDF troops in Israeli territory near the security fence in the Gaza Strip. There are no special instructions for the home front, and there is no threat to the [nearby] communities,” the IDF said in a statement.
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The military refused to elaborate on the nature of the engineering operation near the border, but said it would provide additional information shortly.
In addition to setting up roadblocks along highways and access roads near the security fence on Monday morning, the military also barred some farmers from working in their fields near the Gaza border, according to the local Eshkol regional council.
On Monday night, the military announced that it was lightening the security measures along the border and would allow farmers back to their fields the following day, “except for specific regions.”
“We stress that the engineering operation is ongoing, that there is no threat to residents and there are no special instructions for the home front,” the military said late Monday.
The move came as tensions with the Strip have ramped up amid ongoing threats by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terror groups in the Strip to exact revenge should a hunger-striking security prisoner held by Israel die. Maher al-Akhras, who has not eaten for 85 days, is suspected by Israel of being a PIJ operative.
Work on the near-completed Gaza border barrier was also halted, Hebrew media reported. This was not immediately confirmed by the military.
Large numbers of IDF troops were seen in the area.
On Monday morning, the official Palestinian news outlet SAFA reported that al-Akhras was in very serious condition from his hunger strike.
On Friday night, at least one rocket was fired at southern Israel from the Strip, striking an open field where it caused neither damage nor injury. The IDF did not immediately retaliate, but a defense official said the matter would not go unanswered.
It was the first rocket attack since October 5, when another single rocket was fired, without causing casualties or damage. In response, Israeli aircraft struck a Hamas military installation in the southern Gaza Strip in retaliation.
Prior to that, the last cross-border rocket attack — after which Israel retaliated with air raids — came on September 15 and coincided with the signing in Washington of normalization deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. During that barrage, 15 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip at Israel, one of which struck the city of Ashdod, injuring two people, one of them seriously. Most of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome system, the Israel Defense Forces said.
Last week, Channel 12 reported that Israel and Hamas had reached a truce agreement mediated by Qatar that will see quiet on the southern border for a period of six months. In return, Qatar will transfer $100 million to Hamas in a deal coordinated with Doha by Mossad head Yossi Cohen alongside the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), according to the report.
Mohammad al-Emadi, Qatar’s envoy to Gaza, has regularly visited Gaza in recent years with Israeli approval, bringing funds to the Strip for purchasing fuel, paying civil servants and helping Gaza’s poor. The most recent set of funding was set to run out within weeks, Channel 12 reported.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.