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Thousands of Palestinians head to Al-Aqsa for prayers on third Friday of Ramadan

June 16, 2017 10:32 A.M. (Updated: July 11, 2017 11:57 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Thousands of Palestinians from districts across the occupied West Bank and Israel headed to occupied East Jerusalem for prayers on Friday at Al-Aqsa Mosque during the holy month of Ramadan, and amid heightened security restrictions for Palestinians.

Thousands of Israeli police and army officials were deployed across Jerusalem, its alleyways, and roads leading Al-Aqsa in the Old City during the early morning hours. Palestinian police officials were also deployed near Israeli checkpoints leading to Jerusalem from the West Bank.

Palestinian Head of the Public Transportation Syndicate Awadallah Awadallah said that the syndicate had obtained a permit on Thursday in coordination with Israel's ministry of transportation, allowing 20 Palestinian buses to transfer worshippers from across the northern and southern districts of the West Bank and into Jerusalem city.

Awadallah told Ma’an that this was a new Israeli policy, as Palestinian buses have not been permittd to enter Jerusalem for 20 years.

Palestinian residents of the West Bank are not allowed to access occupied East Jerusalem or Israel without Israeli-issued permits, despite East Jerusalem being part of the Palestinian territory.

Ramadan typically sees a slight ease of permit restrictions on Palestinians, particularly women, though the thousands who do get permits are still subjected to long waits and checkpoints and searches by armed Israeli forces.

During Ramadan, Israeli authorities permit men above the age of 40, women of all ages, and children younger than 12 years of age from the occupied West Bank to enter Jerusalem without a permit on Fridays.

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities have allowed 100 Palestinians above the age of 55 from the besieged Gaza Strip to travel to occupied East Jerusalem in order to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Fridays during Ramadan, months after Israel suspended Friday Al-Aqsa visits for elderly Palestinians from the besieged coastal enclave in December.

However, the 100 Palestinians permitted to leave Gaza to Al-Aqsa every Friday is just half of those who were typically allowed to travel to Al-Aqsa throughout the year as part of the ceasefire deal between Palestinian militant groups and Israel which ended the 2014 war on Gaza.

Meanwhile, according Israeli rights group Gisha, Israel had also allocated 300 permits for Gaza-based members of the Palestinian Red Crescent, members of labor unions, and those employed in international organizations.

However, the permits were only issued for Palestinians who were over the age of 50 and only under the agreement that Palestinians travel from Gaza to Al-Aqsa in the company of an Israeli Civil Affairs Committee.

In addition, Israeli authorities cancelled permits allowing residents of Gaza to visit their families in the occupied West Bank and Israel during Ramadan -- such permits were issued during the previous two years, according to Gisha.

The group pointed out that almost a third of Palestinians in Gaza have family members residing in the West Bank and Israel whom they are not permitted to see at all.

"Though this renewal of Friday prayer permits is likely to be portrayed as a gesture of goodwill toward the Palestinians, it actually signifies a tightening of the closure on Gaza," Gisha reported.

"The violation of the rights to freedom of movement and freedom of religion, and the threat of collective punishment if conditions are not met by individual worshippers, only emphasize the punitive and arbitrary nature of the permit regime, as well as the depth of Israel’s continuous control over the Gaza Strip."
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