For the first time in at least a decade, the IDF will let Palestinian buses bring West Bank worshipers into Israel during the month of Ramadan, which begins Wednesday, a senior officer said.
Speaking to journalists on Tuesday, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai announced a series of measures aimed at easing movement for Palestinians during the Muslim holy month.
In recent years, tens of thousands of Palestinians have been granted permits to enter Israel for prayer and vacation during the month-long holiday, a trend which was scaled back last year after the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas during Ramadan.
Palestinian buses are usually stopped at Israeli checkpoints and not allowed to enter Israel proper. Permit-carrying Palestinians entering Israel typically need to board Israeli buses or taxis to reach their destination.
Mordechai said that Palestinian men over the age of 40 will be allowed to enter the Temple Mount this year without need for an Israeli permit. Women of all ages will also be permitted entry. The IDF will allow Palestinians to enter Israel freely for family visits, setting an initial quota of 100,000 believed to be the capacity of checkpoints to process the entering civilians.
Six hundred Palestinians will also be allowed to leave the country through Ben Gurion International Airport; they are usually required to travel abroad through Amman, Jordan.
“These are very significant measures taken based on [positive] assessments by the IDF Central Command, COGAT and the Shin Bet,” Mordechai said. “They are conditioned on security calm.”
Despite a slight rise in terror activity in the West Bank and Jerusalem in May compared to the previous month, Palestinian violence has seen a steady decline over the past few years. Israeli security officials attribute this trend to improved coordination with Palestinian security agencies and the unwillingness of PA President Mahmoud Abbas to tolerate armed violence.
Despite ongoing tensions with the Palestinian Authority in the international arena, Israel has decided to meet Abbas’s commitment to security cooperation with eased restrictions on West Bank Palestinians. For the first time this year, it will allow 50 Palestinian journalists from the West Bank to enter the country and report on festivities taking place in Israel.
In Hamas-controlled Gaza, Israel will also allow a limited easing of its closure of the coastal enclave.
The current quota of 200 Gaza men over the age of 60 allowed to enter Jerusalem each week for Friday prayers may be doubled. Family visits between Gaza and the West Bank will also be increased. Should the Rafah Border Crossing with Egypt remain closed, the IDF may permit some Palestinian pilgrims from Gaza to make the Hajj to Mecca by transiting through Israel to Jordan.
“For the first time in many years, Gazans will be able to celebrate with their family members in the West Bank,” Mordechai said.
“But if Hamas takes advantage of the easing for terror activities, our response will be harsh,” he warned.