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Hebron's Ibrahimi mosque closed to Muslims on Jewish holiday

Oct. 18, 2016 6:55 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 19, 2016 5:23 P.M.)
Israeli Border Police prevent Palestinian from passing entering Ibrahimi Mosque. Oct. 14, 2016 (Photo: Christian Peacemaker Teams)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli police announced on Tuesday that Muslim and non-Jewish worshipers would be denied access to the Ibrahimi mosque in the southern occupied West Bank city of Hebron on Tuesday and Wednesday, only permitting Jews access to the holy site for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

Israeli police spokesperson Luba al-Samri said in a statement the closures would be in effect from 4 p.m. until 10 p.m. on both Tuesday and Wednesday, during which time thousands of Jewish visitors were expected to visit the site, which is known to Jews as the Cave of Patriarchs.

She added that Israeli forces would be heavily deployed in the area "to guarantee public safety and security."

The closure of the mosque came amid heightened security measures implemented by Israeli authorities this month for the Jewish high holiday season, where Palestinians have been banned from traveling in and out of the occupied West Bank and blockaded Gaza Strip, while Israeli forces also remained heavily deployed in occupied East Jerusalem's Old City around the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to provide protection for Jewish worshipers.

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.

According to the Palestinian Minister of Endowment and Religious Affairs Yousif Ideis, 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.

This time last year as a wave of unrest began in the occupied Palestinian territory, Hebron’s Tel Rumeidah neighborhood, where the mosque is located, became a flash point of violence, and was subsequently designated as a closed military zone for in November 2015 amid dozens of incidents in which more than 40 Palestinians were killed.

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.

An Israeli army spokesperson has previously told Ma’an that the closure of the Ibrahimi Mosque to Muslim worship fell in line with “status quo agreements regarding freedom of religion” for the area.

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.
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