Israel on Wednesday accused the Palestinian Authority of hindering efforts to relax restrictions on the movement of Palestinians during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, saying Ramallah was sowing “resentment” among worshipers.
This year was expected to mark the first time since the second intifada in the early 2000s, marked by a strategic onslaught of Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel, that Israeli authorities permitted West Bank residents to take direct buses from Palestinian cities to the al-Aqsa esplanade.
According to a senior Israeli security official, Israel and the PA had agreed that the security check of shuttles would take place within Palestinian territory, and that only a selective, mostly visually based screening would be conducted upon entrance into Israel, in order to ensure security requirements were being met.
But the official said the Palestinians were not cooperating with the agreed process, and were preventing worshipers from entering into Israel in an orderly way.
“This Palestinian activity is causing great resentment among the West Bank population and massive congestion in the entrances to Jerusalem,” the official said.
The direct buses were not in place last Friday, with Major General Yoav Mordechai, head of COGAT, the Defense Ministry unit that manages civilian affairs in the West Bank, saying this was “due to the lack of preparation of the Palestinian Authority.”
Israel had eased limitations on the movement of Palestinians to and from the West Bank and Gaza Strip ahead of Ramadan, which began last week, including an intention to let up to 800 Gazans enter Jerusalem for prayers at al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site, each Friday of the month.
Women of all ages and men aged 40 and over from the Israeli-occupied West Bank were allowed into Jerusalem without permits, normally required to cross checkpoints and exit the territory.
Forty-eight thousand Palestinians from the West Bank were among Friday’s visitors to al-Aqsa, which Jews refer to as the Temple Mount and consider the holiest place in their religion as the site of the two biblical temples, compared to a few thousand on an average Friday, according to police.
The Defense Ministry had said the measures were conditional on a continued lull in violence, which was broken Friday with the killing of an Israeli hiker in the West Bank and the stabbing of a policeman in east Jerusalem on Sunday by Palestinian assailants.
Israel later revoked entry permits for residents of the West Bank village home to the Palestinian who had stabbed the policeman. It also canceled permission for 500 West Bank Palestinians to fly via Israel’s Ben Gurion airport.
On Wednesday, COGAT also announced it was revoking permits for 500 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to enter Jerusalem ahead of Friday prayers because of rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave. A rocket was fired at Israel from Gaza on Tuesday night.