The Israeli army announced Monday it would be sealing off the West Bank and Gaza Strip over Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement and the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, for 48 hours starting at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, after a terror attack in Jerusalem on Sunday left two dead and five injured.
The military said it would make exceptions for medical emergencies and “humanitarian cases,” with the approval of the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).
Ordinarily, tens of thousands of Palestinians pass through the checkpoints between Israel and the West Bank each day. Though Gaza is often considered a sealed area, some residents with special permits are able to enter and exit through the Erez Crossing into Israel.
These crossings will be shut down, and the closure is expected to remain in effect until Wednesday at 11:59 p.m., dependent upon a “situational assessment,” the army said in a statement.
On Sunday morning, the 39-year-old Palestinian man drove past police headquarters near Jerusalem’s Ammunition Hill and opened fire at a group of people standing near the adjacent light rail station, hitting one woman.
The terrorist, whose name is under a court-imposed gag order, continued on his spree, shooting and fatally wounding Levana Malihi, 60, who had been driving in her car, before police officers on motorcycles managed to shoot him dead after a short gun battle. One officer, First Sergeant Yosef Kirma, 29, was fatally injured in the shootout and another officer was moderately hurt.
While the decision to close off the West Bank and Gaza comes after the deadly shooting attack in Jerusalem, the army routinely seals off the West Bank on Jewish holidays.
The IDF similarly shut down the West Bank’s checkpoints on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, earlier this month.
Yom Kippur begins Tuesday at sundown and ends Wednesday night. It is marked with a 25-hour fast and intense prayer by religious Jews, while more secular Israelis often use the day to ride bicycles on the country’s deserted highways.
Security forces and civil guard volunteers will be out in force in Jerusalem from Tuesday through Wednesday to protect the thousands of worshipers expected to throng to Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall, police said Monday.
Police are advising worshipers to travel to the Western Wall on foot.
From Monday night, private vehicles belonging to all but residents will be barred from entering the Old City via the Jaffa Gate.
Police, working together with municipal officials, will also erect barriers, as they do every Yom Kippur, to prevent Arab drivers from East Jerusalem from entering Jewish West Jerusalem. Police will man the barriers to ensure nobody tries to move them and will fan out on the seam lines between the two parts of the city to prevent rock-throwing by Palestinians and any other violent disturbances.
Sue Surkes contributed to this report.