IDF imposes general closure of West Bank, Israeli police on high alert in East Jerusalem, as Gaza attacks continue

The IDF announced this morning that it had imposed a general closure on the West Bank, effective from midnight on Thursday until midnight on Saturday — after the Jewish sabbath/shabat. Israeli police and Border Police are on high alert in East Jerusalem for Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Haram as-Sharif in the Old City, as IDF attacks continue in Gaza, and rocket and other “projectile” firing continues from Gaza onto adjacent Israeli areas.

The closure information — sent to journalists at 0826 am on Friday 9 January, Jerusalem time — says that “Following a decision by the Minister of Defense and in accordance with state assessments, the Judea and Samaria Region [i.e., the West Bank] will be under a general closure beginning midnight, January 8th. The closure will be lifted on midnight, January 10th, 2008″.

In a somewhat — but not too — amusing linguistic error, the closure order also states that “Various humanitarian, medical and other exceptional cases will be permitted to cross throughout the closure, subjugated to the district coordinator and liaison”.

Helicopters are flying overhead in East Jerusalem — and the white surveillance blimp is almost certainly back (but I cannot see it from the room where I am working) — about an hour before the Friday prayers are scheduled to begin.

The American Consulate in Jerusalem has sent a warning to U.S. citizens that “The Israeli National Police are reporting the possibility of a large demonstration Friday, January 9, 2009, in the Old City and other possible demonstrations throughout East Jerusalem in protest of the ongoing situation in Gaza. There is expected to be a heavy police presence in and around the Old City throughout the day … Access restrictions to the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount and a heavy police presence may spark disturbances at entry points, to include the Damascus, Herod’s and Lion’s gates, in addition to random security checkpoints set up throughout the areas leading to the Old City. Heightened awareness should continue to be practiced when approaching established and random security checkpoints throughout the Jerusalem area, where crowds and the possibility of spontaneous disturbances may occur”.

The UN Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire, adopted just before dawn here in the region, has had no impact on the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead, but the Israeli government security cabinet (Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Deputy PM + Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni) are to meet today to consider either expanding the current ground operation — or not.

Over the past two weeks — at the launch of the operation against Gaza targets on 27 December, and at the decision to start the ground invasion on 3 January — followed a similar pattern, with the decisions being taken late on Friday by the Security Cabinet, and implemented by the IDF on Saturday.

The Israeli negotiators — primarily the IDF’s Amos Gilad — returned from Cairo on Thursday night, hours before the UNSC vote. Their Egyptian interlocuters — primarily intelligence chief Omar Suleiman — would have briefed them on the latest Hamas stand.

The IDF has proposed another three-hour “humanitarian respite”, however — this time between noon and 3pm, reportedly to allow for Friday prayers in Gaza (!), which are supposed to be performed in group assemblies (in a mosque, if it is not bombed-out), and to allow for an earlier finish prior to the Jewish shabat.