For the first time in five years, the Israeli military said it was not closing West Bank border crossings for Palestinians during the Purim holiday, which began Wednesday evening.
Such closures are standard practice during Israeli national holidays and Jewish festivals, in what the military says is a preventative measure against attacks at those times, which are seen as periods of increased tension.
According to the military’s liaison to the Palestinians, the crossings between the West Bank — as well as the Gaza Strip — and Israel will be running as usual in the coming days.
“We inform you that during the Jewish Purim holiday this week, the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria area crossings will remain operating as usual, without change,” the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, known by its acronym COGAT, wrote on its Facebook page.
Ordinarily, tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank enter Israel and Israeli settlements for work each day.
A smaller number of Gaza residents also travel to Israel for work and medical cases, but there are far more restrictions for those seeking to enter the country from the Hamas-run enclave.
The move comes amid heightened tensions after nine Palestinians were killed in violent confrontations with Israeli troops in recent weeks. Some died in gun battles with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank during raids, and others died in attempted stabbing attacks in Jerusalem’s Old City.
The Israel Police, the Israel Defense Forces, and the Shin Bet security agency were all said to support skipping the usual closure during Purim, before Defense Minister Benny Gantz signed off on the move.
The military did not explain what had brought about the new policy, and it was not clear whether it was a one-time change or a broader matter.
Officials have warned of a possible flare-up of violence during Ramadan next month. Shin Bet head Ronen Bar held talks with his FBI counterpart in Washington this week on the matter, the Ynet news site reported. And Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, who oversees the police, warned in response to the Jerusalem stabbing attacks that “terrorists and extremists will try to set the area on fire” in the coming weeks.
The next closure expected to be imposed on the West Bank and Gaza crossings will be during Passover, in mid-April.