Israel will let women, children and some men from the West Bank into Al-Aqsa, despite the high level of alert
The Defense Ministry announced on Tuesday that some restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank will be eased for the holy month of Ramadan, after a recent spate of terror attacks briefly raised the prospect of the move being reversed.
Women, children and some men from the West Bank will be able to enter Israel freely for Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem during the holiday.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a phone call on Tuesday evening that the measures could be further extended if the terrorist wave did not continue.
“I insisted on [Abbas] that Israel is ready to expand its civilian measures during and after the month of Ramadan, depending on the security situation,” Gantz said in a statement.
A series of deadly terrorist attacks in recent weeks has shaken Israelis. Officials fear tensions could escalate during Ramadan and Passover, which are expected to overlap this year. Eleven people inside Israel were killed in three terrorist attacks in a single week at the end of March.
Abbas issued a rare sentence after a Palestinian from the West Bank shot dead three Israelis and two Ukrainians in the central city of Bnei Brak last Tuesday in the deadliest attack of the wave.
Gantz said he told Abbas he appreciated the PA leader’s denunciation of the attack.
“I told him that the holidays should be a month of peace and quiet and not marked by terror,” Gantz said.
Under the new Ramadan rules, Palestinian women from the West Bank will be allowed to enter Israel without a permit for Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque, the widely known Defense Ministry Palestinian Liaison Officer said. under its acronym COGAT.
Palestinian men over the age of 50 and boys under the age of 12 will also be allowed to enter Israel freely for Friday prayers, while those between the ages of 40 and 49 will be able to travel to Al-Aqsa if they have a licence. Men under the age of 40 will not be allowed entry, per standard policy, unless they have a permit that allows them to enter Israel on Fridays.
Hundreds of thousands of West Bank Palestinians regularly attend Al-Aqsa during Ramadan. The mosque is Islam’s third holiest site and prayer there is a central facet of the holy month for many Palestinian Muslims.
The Flashpoint site is revered by Jews as the holiest point in their tradition: the two biblical temples are said to have been built on top of a hill.
About 5,000 Palestinians with first-degree relatives in Israel will also receive permits to visit them between Sunday and Thursday over the coming week, according to COGAT.
There was no immediate change in policy towards the Gaza Strip. Israeli authorities are imposing much stricter restrictions on travel from the coastal enclave, which is ruled by the terror group Hamas.
Israeli cabinet ministers approved the looser policy last Wednesday. The recent wave of terror that left 11 people dead had briefly left the change in policy in doubt.
Any eased restrictions will not apply until next week, after which security officials will meet again to review policy and discuss a possible expansion of permit quotas, COGAT said.
For security reasons, Israel tightly regulates the movement of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza into its territory. But Israeli authorities regularly relax some of these restrictions or issue special permits during Muslim and Christian holidays.
In a phone call with The Times of Israel last week, a Fatah official, speaking on condition of anonymity, warned that imposing a lockdown on Palestinians or rolling back restrictions on more flexible holidays would increase tensions between the two parties.