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Israel continues to prevent Gazans from traveling to al-Aqsa to pray

Dec. 23, 2016 2:16 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 23, 2016 3:35 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Israeli authorities have continued to uphold a recent decision to cancel weekly visitation by elderly Palestinians from the besieged Gaza Strip to attend Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied Eat Jerusalem.

Sources at the Palestinian liaison's office confirmed to Ma’an on Friday that Israel continued to prevent Muslim worshipers from Gaza to travel to Jerusalem, after repeated accusations from Israeli authorities that Palestinians were not returning to the Gaza Strip immediately following the visits.

A spokesperson for COGAT, the Israeli agency responsible for implementing Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, told Ma'an earlier this month regarding permit cancellations, that the permits were cancelled as a result of "many [Palestinians] exploiting the permits and staying illegally in Israel."

"In spite of the agreements with the Palestinian side, Gaza residents have continued to exploit the permits and so it was decided to reduce the amount of permits given for travel to Jerusalem Fridays," the statement continued, adding that "we will not allow for this abuse of Israel's civil policy to continue."

As of last Friday, UNRWA employees in Gaza were still being allowed to visit, and it remained unclear on Friday if they had made the journey this week.

Visitations of elderly Palestinians from Gaza were implemented as part of a ceasefire agreement that ended Israel’s 2014 offensive on the besieged enclave. However, due to alleged Israeli security concerns and Jewish holidays, visits have been frequently interrupted since their introduction.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque, cherished as the third holiest site in Islam, is located in occupied East Jerusalem, a part of the internationally recognized Palestinian territory which has been occupied by the Israeli army for almost 50 years.

It is also venerated as Judaism's most holy place, as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, and some Jewish extremists have called for the destruction of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in order to build a Third Temple in its place.

The majority of the more than 1.8 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are sealed inside the coastal enclave due to a near-decade long military blockade imposed by Israel and upheld by Egypt on the southern border.

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