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Israel closes Ibrahimi Mosque to non-Jewish worshipers over Jewish holidays

Oct. 2, 2016 7:59 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 3, 2016 10:36 A.M.)
HEBRON (Ma'an) -- Israeli authorities have decided to deny Muslim worshipers and non-Jewish visitors entry to the Ibrahimi Mosque in the southern occupied West Bank city of Hebron for seven non-consecutive days in October, the Palestinian Minister of Endowment and Religious Affairs said on Sunday.

Yousif Ideis told Ma'an that Israel had notified the Palestinian Authority that, due to Jewish holidays, the mosque would be closed to non-Jews on Oct. 3, 4, 9, 12, 18, 19, and 26.

Oct. 3 and 4 correspond to the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, while Oct. 12 is Yom Kippur, Oct. 16 to 23 correspond to the holiday of Sukkot, and Oct. 25 is Simchat Torah.

Ideis added that dozens of Israeli settlers "stormed" the Ibrahimi Mosque under military protection on Saturday night and performed Jewish prayers both in the part of the mosque allocated for Jews and the one reserved for Muslims.

An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an that they were looking into reports of the upcoming closures, and confirmed that Jewish worshipers escorted by security forces had entered the Ibrahimi Mosque overnight.

A spokesperson for COGAT, the Israeli agency responsible for implementing Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities announced on Saturday evening that a general closure would be imposed on all passage between the blockaded Gaza Strip and Israel, as well as between the occupied West Bank and Israel, between Sunday and Tuesday for Rosh Hashanah.

Severe restrictions for Palestinians -- including denied access to the Ibrahimi Mosque -- are typically implemented by the Israeli authorities during Jewish holidays for alleged security purposes.

The mosque, believed to be the burial place of the prophet Abraham, is sacred to both Muslims and Jews and has been the site of oft-violent tensions for decades.

The holy site was split into a synagogue -- known to Jews as the Cave of Patriarchs -- and a mosque after US-born Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians inside the mosque in 1994.

Since the split, Muslim worshipers have been denied access to the site during Jewish holidays and vice versa in effort to prevent violence from erupting at the holy site. Located in the center of Hebron -- one of the largest cities in the occupied West Bank -- the Old City was also divided into Palestinian and Israeli-controlled areas at the time, known as H1 and H2.

Some 800 notoriously aggressive settlers now live under the protection of the Israeli military in the Old City, surrounded by more than 30,000 Palestinians.

In addition to severe restrictions on movement that apply to Palestinian residents and not to Israeli settlers living illegally in the area, the Israeli military has historically hindered regular religious activity at the Ibrahimi Mosque, with Israeli forces banning the Muslim call to prayer at the mosque 51 times in March alone.
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