The Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), which implements Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories, has issued an order freezing more than 83,000 permits allowing Palestinians to enter Israel and East Jerusalem, the organization said on Thursday, and said it would send more hundreds of troops to the occupied West Bank after a Palestinian shooting attack that killed four Israelis in Tel Aviv, Reuters Reported
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the assault by the two gunmen on Wednesday in a trendy shopping and dining market near Israel’s Defence Ministry, but Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups were quick to praise it.
The freeze comes in the wake of a deadly shooting attack in Tel Aviv on Wednesday night, in which four Israelis were killed and six wounded.
Two Palestinian suspects were detained on the scene, and the Israeli army carried out an unspecified number of detentions in the suspected assailants’ hometown of Yatta in the southern occupied West Bank, also closing off the entrance to the town.
The assailants came from near Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. They dressed in suits and ties and posed as customers at a restaurant before pulling out automatic weapons and opening fire, sending diners fleeing in panic.
The dead included two women and two men, while six people were wounded. The attack followed a lull in recent weeks after what had been near-daily stabbings and shootings on Israeli streets. It was the deadliest incident in eight months.
The attackers, cousins in their 20s who security experts said appeared to have entered Israel without permits, were quickly apprehended. One of them was shot and wounded.
“It is clear that they spent time planning and training and choosing their target,” Barak Ben-Zur, former head of research at Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security agency, told reporters.
“They got some support, although we don’t know for sure who their supporters are,” he said, adding that they appeared to have used improvised automatic weapons smuggled into Israel.
The attack, as families were enjoying a balmy evening out at the open-air Sarona complex, took place just a couple of hundred yards from the fortified Defence Ministry in the heart of Tel Aviv, which has seen far less violence than Jerusalem.
After security consultations overseen by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the military said it was rescinding some 83,000 permits issued to Palestinians from the West Bank to visit relatives in Israel during the ongoing Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
It also announced that two battalions would be deployed in the West Bank by the end of the day to reinforce troops stationed in the area, where the military maintains a network of checkpoints and often carries out raids to arrest suspected militants. Israeli battalions are comprised of around 300 troops.
Such measures, including restrictions on access to Jerusalem’s Aqsa Mosque compound, the holy site in the heart of the Old City that Jews refer to as Temple Mount, have in the past lead to increased tension with the Palestinians.
After the attack, fireworks were set off in parts of the West Bank and in some refugee camps people sang, chanted and waved flags in celebration, locals said.
Hamas spokesman Hussam Badran called it “the first prophecy of Ramadan” and said the location of the attack, across the road from Israel’s fortified Defence Ministry, “indicated the failure of all measures by the occupation” to end the uprising.
During the recent wave of violence, Israel’s government has repeatedly criticized Palestinian factions for inciting attacks or not doing enough to quell them.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the largest group in the Palestine Liberation Organization after Fatah, the Western-backed party of President Mahmoud Abbas, described the killings as “a natural response to field executions conducted by the Zionist occupation”.
The group called it a challenge to Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s new defense minister, who must decide how to respond to the violence, possibly with tighter security across the West Bank. Lieberman said he would act, but didn’t say how.
The United Nations’ special coordinator for the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, condemned the shootings and expressed alarm at the failure of Palestinian groups to speak out against the violence. The European Union did the same.
Netanyahu visited the scene minutes after arriving back from a two-day visit to Moscow. He described the attacks as “cold-blooded murder” and vowed retaliation.
“We will locate anyone who cooperated with this attack and we will act firmly and intelligently to fight terrorism,” Netanyahu said.
A first step was to shut down the area around Yatta and suspend work permits held by 204 relatives of the attackers.
Since October last year, 32 Israelis and two visiting U.S. citizens have been killed by Palestinians. Israeli forces have shot dead at least 19
“In accordance with the security assessment taken last night by the Prime Minister (Benjamin Netanyahu), the Minister of Defense and the IDF Chief of Staff, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Major General Yoav (Poly) Mordechai, has instructed on the freezing of 204 permits of the terrorists’ relatives,” COGAT said in a statement on Thursday.
“In addition, all of the permits for Ramadan, especially permits for family visits from Judea and Samaria to Israel, are frozen,” the statement read, using the Israeli term for the occupied West Bank. “Accordingly, 83,000 permits are frozen.”
COGAT added that all agreements allowing Gaza residents to travel to East Jerusalem to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque had also been suspended, saying that “all the steps for the Gazan residents for Ramadan are frozen.”
An average of 200 Gazans have been allowed to travel to Al-Aqsa as part of the ceasefire deal between Palestinian resistence and Israel which ended the 2014 war on Gaza. However, the agreement has been regularly suspended over Israeli claims regarding security.
The vast majority of the permits were issued by the Israeli Army Commander Gadi Eizenkot and approved by the recently-appointed Israeli Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman to allow Palestinians to go to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.