Israelis partially close off Ramallah after shooting
Queues at checkpoints as Israel imposes travel ban following wounding of soldiers
Clampdown: an Israeli soldier checks the documents of a Palestinian passenger of a taxi on its way out of Ramallah yesterday. Photograph: Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images
Long traffic jams built up on approach roads to the West Bank city of Ramallah on Monday as Israel imposed a partial closure on the city, letting in only Ramallah residents. Angry drivers reported being stuck for three hours or more.
Only what were termed “humanitarian cases” and senior Palestinian Authority officials were allowed to leave by Israeli troops. The travel ban also applied to foreigners.
Ramallah, just north of Jerusalem, is the West Bank’s administrative capital, housing all the main offices of President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, along with foreign aid organisations. Tens of thousands of Palestinians travel in and out of Ramallah every day, passing through the Israeli checkpoints that ring the city.
The move followed a shooting on Sunday at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Ramallah in which three Israeli soldiers were wounded by a member of the Palestinian security forces. The assailant, who had posted on Facebook his plans for an attack, was shot and killed by Israeli troops.
Sunday’s incident was the third time that members of the Palestinian security services have been involved in attacks on Israelis since the start of October.
According to Israeli officials, the travel ban was imposed following concrete intelligence information of a terrorist attack being planned.
Palestinian officials condemned the Israeli action as a form of collective punishment. “They shouldn’t punish the entire governorate of Ramallah for a policeman who carried out an attack,” said Palestinian police spokesman Adnan Damiri said.
Clashes broke out in the village of Jabaa, just outside Ramallah, yesterday afternoon, after Israel closed the Jabaa checkpoint, leaving hundreds of motorists stranded.
The night before the closure was imposed, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu had criticised Mr Abbas over Sunday’s shooting.
“Abbas has not condemned this attack that was carried out by one of his men,” he said. “The terrorist received a salary from the Palestinian Authority, which is responsible for the incitement that is fuelling terrorism against Israel.”
More than 150 Palestinians, along with 26 Israelis and a US tourist, have been killed since the start of October.
Despite the ongoing attacks, the Israeli political and military echelons have been reluctant to implement collective punishments, fearing this would encourage more West Bank residents to carry out acts of violence.
The violence has been largely characterised by lone attackers, acting independently of militant groups.
In recent weeks, the army has identified a downward trend in the number of attacks and violent disturbances in the West Bank, although the attacks that have taken place have been more serious, including shootings and infiltrations into Jewish settlements.
The Israeli assessment is that the violence will continue in the coming months and that the military, with no prior intelligence of impending attacks, is finding it almost impossible to restore calm.