JERUSALEM  - Israel’s army on Wednesday staged a surprise drill on the country’s northern border, the military said, amid tensions over Iran’s nuclear drive and the fate of Syria’s chemical weapons.

The one-day exercise was ordered by army chief Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, a military statement said, “in order to examine the competence and preparedness of several units in the army, led by (the) artillery corps.”

The drill was not previously announced, but the military said it had been scheduled. “The drill is a part of routine inspection in the army,” the statement said. “These drills take place throughout the year.”

Military sources said the drill began with soldiers being drafted from their homes, after which they were dispatched by air to the Golan Heights, which borders Syria. The drill was to end with a live fire exercise later in the day, sources added. “The drill was scheduled in advance and does not indicate any changes in the army’s levels of alert,” they said.

Israel also closed a key checkpoint allowing Palestinians from an east Jerusalem neighbourhood access to the city centre, despite protests from residents and Israeli rights groups.

Last month, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel issued “an urgent plea” to authorities to keep the Ras Khamis checkpoint open, saying its closure would force Palestinians to use a single crossing, two km away.