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Israel suspends Aqsa visits for Gazans over Jewish holiday

April 22, 2016 10:53 A.M. (Updated: April 22, 2016 5:34 P.M.)
An Israeli flag, displayed on a roof of a settlement in East Jerusalem, is seen in front of the dome of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. (AFP/Thomas Coex, File)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- The Israeli authorities suspended visits to Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque for Gazans on Friday due to the Jewish holiday of Passover.

Israeli authorities prevented dozens of Palestinians over the age of 60 from traveling to Jerusalem via the Erez crossing for their weekly Friday worship at Al-Aqsa Mosque, sources at the Palestinian liaison office told Ma'an.

Israeli forces implemented complete closures on crossings in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip for Palestinians on the Jewish holiday. The closure began midnight Thursday and is to be in effect until midnight Saturday.

Only humanitarian, medical, and other exceptional cases would be allowed to cross after obtaining approval from Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).

Tightened security measures were also enforced in Jerusalem, with extra police units deployed in public areas and an emphasis on occupied East Jerusalem's Old City. Israeli forces also detained at least 20 Palestinians across east Jerusalem in predawn raids Friday.

The suspension of Al-Aqsa visits for Gazans comes one week after some 200 Palestinians above the age of 60 were permitted to cross out of the besieged coastal enclave for the first time since a one-month freeze on visitation was lifted by Israel.

Israel, following the ceasefire agreement that ended its brutal offensive on the Gaza Strip in 2014, began permitting 200 elderly Gazans to worship at the holy site every Friday.

However, Israel froze the agreement on March 16 due to allegations that Palestinians traveling for worship were not returning to the Gaza Strip on the same day of the visit, as the agreement stipulated, posing a “threat to security.”

The ban was lifted last Friday as part of Israel’s “extensive civil policy towards the Gaza Strip,” as long as Palestinians “meet their commitments,” a spokesperson for Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) told Ma’an at the time.

An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an that Friday’s suspension was related to the Passover holiday, and visits are expected to resume the following week.

The majority of the more than 1.8 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are sealed inside the coastal enclave due to a near-decade long military blockade imposed by Israel and upheld by Egypt on the southern border.

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