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Israel bans Palestinians from Ibrahimi Mosque on Jewish holiday

Oct. 12, 2016 1:19 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 12, 2016 6:49 P.M.)
HEBRON (Ma'an) -- Israeli authorities Wednesday denied Muslim worshipers and non-Jewish visitors entry to the Ibrahimi Mosque in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, only permitting Israeli Jews access to the holy site during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.

Locals told Ma’an that Israeli troops closed all the alleys leading to the mosque, preventing the movement of Palestinians in the area. Israeli forces were also reportedly deployed heavily around illegal settlements and outposts outside the city.

Earlier in October Israeli forces closed the Ibrahimi Mosque to Palestinian worshipers during the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, including banning the Islamic call to prayer, a usual component of everyday life in Hebron.

Palestinian Minister of Endowment and Religious Affairs Yousif Ideis told Ma'an at the time 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 amid the high holiday season.

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

Severe restrictions for Palestinians -- including being 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 an 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.

The recent ban on Palestinian worshipers came as Israeli forces enforced a series of closures and heightened security operations throughout the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the larger Jerusalem district for the start of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur on Tuesday.

Israeli police spokeswoman Luba al-Samri said in a statement Monday that Israeli police, border police, and Israeli “volunteers” would be spread through different areas in the city of Jerusalem beginning early Tuesday morning to “maintain order and provide protection for Jews expected to arrive to the Western Wall for prayer.”

Al-Samri added that Israeli police provided the volunteers with weapons to “guarantee the safety of the worshipers.”

An Israeli army spokesperson confirmed to Ma’an on Wednesday that the closures would remain until midnight on Thursday.
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