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Palestinians face severe restrictions during Jewish holiday

March 23, 2016 1:28 P.M. (Updated: March 24, 2016 3:45 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Palestinians faced severe movement restrictions on Wednesday, as Israeli authorities shut down all movement through checkpoints in and out of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip ahead of the Jewish holiday of Purim.

An Israeli army spokesperson said that beginning at 1 a.m. on Wednesday and lasting until midnight Saturday, the checkpoints would be closed to all Palestinians with the exception of humanitarian cases.

Palestinian citizens of Israel, as well as holders of foreign passports, would still be allowed to pass through the checkpoints, she said, noting: "They're only closed for Palestinians."

She said Palestinians could seek to arrange "special circumstances" with Israel's Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).

Sources inside the Palestinian liaison department confirmed the measures would be extended to the Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings into the Gaza Strip, with only humanitarian cases and a limited number of Palestinian Christians allowed to leave the blockaded coastal enclave for the Easter holdiay.

It was not immediately clear if West Bank Palestinian Christians who recieved permits to travel to Jerusalem for Easter will be permitted to travel during the Purim closures.

The closures will likely effect the livlihoods of the tens of thousands of Palestinians who travel from the occupied West Bank to Israel for work.

Israeli police spokesperson Luba al-Samri also said there would be heightened security measures due to Purim, including a number of police patrols, across occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank throughout the holiday.

Palestinian access has also been restricted to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, with all Palestinian men younger than 50 denied entry to the site, which is the third holiest in Islam.

Access restrictions to the mosque compound during a succession of Jewish holidays last September played a major role in triggering a wave of unrest that has since left more than 200 Palestinians and nearly 30 Israelis dead.

Tensions were running high in the West Bank on Wednesday morning after Israeli forces escorted hundreds of Israelis, including settlers, to holy sites there, with clashes breaking out nearby Joseph's Tomb near Nablus.

The Jewish holiday of Purim, which commemorates the Biblical account of the saving of the Jewish people from Haman, an ancient Persian vizier, begins Wednesday evening and ends late Thursday this year.
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