Residents of Israeli communities along the Gaza border are essentially being held hostage by security measures implemented to keep them safe in the face of rising tensions with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terrorist organization.
A closure has been imposed on Gaza Envelope communities — no one in, and no one out during daylight hours – while roads in the area, including some main highways, are likewise shut down to traffic.
Kibbutzim Nahal Oz, Netiv Ha’Asara and Kerem Shalom have been blockaded entirely, although some of the other communities have alternative exit routes.
IDF’s Gaza Division Reinforced, Roadblocks in Place
The IDF reinforced its Gaza Division with 100 reserve troops who were called up Tuesday, along with three active duty companies, to help implement the security measures.
Soldiers used massive shipping containers to blockade the roads, hoping to prevent a terrorist attack.
Train service has been suspended between Ashkelon and Sderot, and between Ashkelon and Netivot. Several bus lines have been suspended as well and Zikim beach is closed. The alert is, for the time being, expected to continue on Friday.
All this and more is taking place following threats by PIJ to attack Israel in retaliation for the Monday night arrest of Bassam al-Saadi, the group’s local commander in Jenin, and his son-in-law and aide, Ashraf al-Jada.
Israel Rejects Palestinian Islamic Jihad Demands
Egyptian efforts to de-escalate the situation are ongoing, but thus far with little success.
Israel has rejected the “demands” by PIJ, according to the Palestinian Authority’s Al-Quds newspaper.
The terrorist group is demanding an end to Israeli military operations in Judea and Samaria, the release of hunger-striking Palestinian Authority detainee Khalil Awawda and permission for al-Saadi’s family to visit him “to check on his condition.”
Meanwhile, residents in the Gaza Envelope communities are doing their best to maintain a regular routine, albeit with children’s activities being held in bomb shelters.
Some Residents Left to Stay in Hotels
Some of the residents left as security closures were being implemented. One family that was heading back home, the Madar family, told Israel’s Channel N12 News they had been staying in hotels since Tuesday.
“From the Dead Sea to Eilat, wherever you want, we’ve been there,” the husband said. “You can’t close down half of the south to arrest a terrorist. We’ve been moving around for two or three days, staying in hotels and paying a lot of money because we cannot sleep at home.
“The children are already traumatized from the previous operation,” he added.
As they traveled towards their kibbutz, the family faced a massive roadblock built with huge shipping containers to prevent PIJ terrorist snipers and missile squads from murdering the local Israelis.
“I am afraid of the Red Alert siren,” his daughter Lian said, “or what might happen.”
“It’s enough,” declared Lian’s mother, Ro’it. “They are the ones who should be worrying and living under closure. Their children are the ones who should have to stay home and not go to schools and summer camps.”
Unable to Leave Home for Work
Another member of the kibbutz told N12 that residents are living with “a measure of uncertainty” as they are being forced to stay home.
“For two days already I have been unable to leave the kibbutz to go to work at the hospital,” he said. “Activities are being held in the kibbutz, but inside the buildings.
“It’s another summer vacation for the children that is being ruined. It’s become a routine, and not one that anyone wants,” he said.
“There is a concrete threat of attempted sniping at civilians or soldiers,” Eshkol Regional Council head Gadi Yarkoni told Israel’s KAN News public broadcaster.
“This has forced us to take cover. Where there is no choice, human life comes first.
“Sometimes the trick is to see how to control the situation without escalating, and sometimes my residents, unfortunately, suffer from it.”
Palestinian Islamic Jihad Threatens to Bomb Israel
Khaled al-Batsh, a senior PIJ official in Gaza, told The Media Line in an interview Wednesday that his group “We have every right to bomb Israel with our most advanced weapons, and make the occupier pay a heavy price.
“We will not settle for attacking around Gaza, but we will bomb the center of the so-called State of Israel,” he said.
“The Palestinian Islamic Jihad can’t sit silent and watch the Israeli crimes and the spilling of Palestinian blood in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. . . The Islamic Jihad will keep to its commitment to protect the Palestinian people and the resistance anywhere.”
IDF Chief Approves Offense if PIJ Escalates
The IDF, meanwhile, said in a statement that it is “prepared for all scenarios, including an escalation, and is re-assessing the situation regularly.”
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi toured the Gaza Division on Thursday morning and conducted a situation assessment with the division commander as the military remained on high alert.
During his tour, Kochavi directed the IDF to increase its readiness for escalation scenarios, to strengthen defense, collection and intelligence efforts. He also approved plans for an offense in the event of an escalation.
Israel Warns Hamas of Response if Tensions Continue
Israel also sent a message to Gaza’s ruling Hamas terrorist organization, warning if the tensions do not stop, the Jewish State will be forced to take steps, and “is not afraid to enter into another operation,” N12 reported.
Israel is demanding that Hamas arrest the PIJ elements who are escalating the tensions and has warned that if the situation does not change within a day or two, Israel will raise the economic pressure on the enclave.
If economic pressure fails to produce the desired results, “additional measures” will be taken.
Arab sources reported that Israeli combat drones and planes were flying over the enclave amid efforts to prevent terror squads from launching anti-tank guided missiles and sniper attacks across the border.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz met Thursday morning to discuss the security situation in the south, and the “steps necessary for continued security in the area,” the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said.
They were scheduled to meet again later in the day.
Meanwhile, residents of Gaza Envelope communities continue to live under siege. They say they understand the “complicated situation” and they support the IDF. But they question how long this can continue.