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Al-Haq: Palestinian shopkeepers suffer as famous Old City souq remains closed

July 26, 2017 6:57 P.M. (Updated: July 26, 2017 10:40 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq released a statement on Tuesday expressing concern over the fact that the majority of the 54 shops inside a historic souq in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem have remained closed ever since Israeli forces began to impose strict closures and punitive measures on the city almost two weeks ago.

In the wake of a deadly shootout at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on July 14, Israeli forces installed metal detectors -- which have since been taken down, only to be replaced by more advanced security systems -- inside the holy site, sparking a widespread civil disobedience campaign among local Palestinians, who have been met with violent repression at the hands of Israeli forces.

Following the shooting, which left three Palestinians and two Israeli police officers dead, Israeli forces imposed a closure on the Old City and the holy site for nearly three days. When the closure was lifted, however, only three of the eight entrances leading to Al-Aqsa were reopened to worshipers.

The entrance to the al-Qatanin Souq, a street that leads straight into the Al-Aqsa compound, is one of the streets that has remained closed with an Israeli checkpoint at its entrance, according to al-Haq.

As a result, a source of constant traffic and local customers of the souq has disappeared, while the armed presence of Israeli forces at the souq’s entrance has “served to intimidate tourists and locals from entry,” al-Haq said.

Al-Haq quoted one Palestinian shopkeeper as saying that while it was not the first time the residents and shopkeepers of al-Qatanin have had to face such closures, “the closures and access restrictions have a very negative impact on our income. This situation makes it impossible for us to pay the taxes and bills, as our revenues are very low. As a result, we have very heavy debts.”

Warning of the “disastrous consequences” that a continued closure would have on al-Qatanin, al-Haq also noted that a metal bar was installed at the souq’s entrance, and expressed fear that cameras would be installed there in the near future as part of the Israeli government’s proposed 100 million shekels ($28 million) security network to further surveil Palestinians.

“Israel’s policies and practices constitute a clear policy targeting Palestinian residents and the economy of Jerusalem, and in particular the Old City, in order to unlawfully alter its demographic balance,” al-Haq said.

As the economic situation has become bleaker in East Jerusalem, the political situation has remained tense, as Israeli forces have continued to violently repress Palestinians protesting the government’s measures at Al-Aqsa, the third holiest site in Islam.

More than 1,000 Palestinians were estimated to be injured just 10 days into the unrest, with four Palestinians being killed during the violence.

Israeli forces have raided Palestinian hospitals, carried out massive detention campaigns, and violently clashed with Palestinians across East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, leaving Palestinian journalists, medics and children injured in the process.

UN envoy for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov addressed the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday, expressing concern over the risk of escalation and violence in the region due to the Al-Aqsa crisis.

Mladenov relayed the views of Palestinian resident of occupied East Jerusalem, who have often reported to the UN that “their religious and ethnic identity is under threat; that their very livelihood in their own city is at risk while living under occupation; their children often live in fear of security operations and house demolitions. They want to pray in peace and live in security and freedom.”

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