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Israel cancels weekly visit from Gaza to Al-Aqsa

March 16, 2016 10:56 P.M. (Updated: March 18, 2016 10:41 A.M.)
Muslim worshipers pictured in June praying near Dome of the Rock in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli, File)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- The Israeli authorities on Wednesday cancelled a weekly visit allowing elderly Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to travel to occupied East Jerusalem for Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque, according to Palestinian liaison officials.

Sources at the Palestinian liaison office said that Israel had called off the agreement, which previously allowed 200 Gazans above the age of 60 to worship at the holy site as part of a ceasefire agreement that ended the 2014 Gaza war.

Sources said Israel canceled the agreement on the grounds that Palestinian worshipers traveling for worship were not returning to the Gaza Strip on the same day of the visit as the agreement stipulated.

A spokesperson for Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) confirmed the cancellation and said: "Any claims regarding the freezing of permits for prayers in the Temple Mount [Al-Aqsa] should be directed to those who choose to exploit illegally the permits at the expense of the rest of the public."

"In light of inappropriate misusing of the permit and exploiting inappropriately the Israeli civil policy, it has been decided to freeze the permits for prayers in the Temple Mount (Al-Aqsa)," the spokesperson said, adding that over 1,000 Palestinians in Gaza are permitted to cross to Israel each day for a variety of purposes including for business affairs or medical treatment.

The spokesperson said that giving permits for entry to the Al-Aqsa compound is a "civil step" among others taken by the body, but added that any "attempts to harm the security of Israel" would not be tolerated.

The spokesperson told Ma'an the decision was temporary until the issue was addressed by the Palestinian Civil Committee in the Gaza Strip.

The announcement comes after the Israeli authorities last week reportedly said they were considering increasing the number of Palestinians able to travel from Gaza to Al-Aqsa, as well as lowering the age limit to 50.

Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam and is also venerated as Judaism's most holy place. Disputes surrounding visitation to the site have historically flared tensions in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Increased Israeli presence at the site last year contributed to an escalation of tensions that triggered a wave of unrest across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory in October.
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