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Israeli forces close off Ibrahimi Mosque as thousands of Israelis attend religious celebration

Nov. 26, 2016 12:48 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 27, 2016 3:04 P.M.)
HEBRON (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces closed the area around the Ibrahimi Mosque in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron on Saturday to make room for Israeli settlers celebrating the life of a biblical figure.

Thousands of Israelis are expected to arrive at the mosque in order to read the Torah and celebrate the life of Sarah, Prophet Abraham’s wife, who is believed to be buried at the site.

Israeli forces had closed two roads surrounding the Tariq Bin Ziyad School near the mosque with large cement blocks, which prevented Palestinians from moving freely in the area.

An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an she would look into reports on the closures.

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 and several other biblical figures, 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 but 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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