Israel announced on Monday that it would loosen travel restrictions for Palestinians in the West Bank during the upcoming month-long Muslim festival of Ramadan, but not for residents of the Gaza Strip.
“On the recommendation of the Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, and as part of the policy to improve the fabric of life of the Palestinian population in Judea and Samaria, the Minister of Defense, Mr. Avigdor Lieberman, has approved a series of civilian measures for the holiday period,” Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon, Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, said in a statement, using the biblical name for the West Bank.
The measures, similar to those of previous years, were announced, even as Israel has expressed fears of increased violence over the next several weeks, owing to the transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem on May 14 and the marking of Nakba Day — marking Israel’s founding and the displacement of Palestinians — the following day.
Ramadan is expected to begin the night of May 15, though the exact date and time are dependent upon the moon.
According to the liaison, known formally as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the measures will allow Palestinians in the West Bank to see family members in Israel, to visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and to travel abroad from Ben Gurion Airport.
These will not apply to Palestinians who live in the Gaza Strip. In previous years, residents of the coastal enclave were given some special dispensations for Ramadan — normally in the form of permits to visit Jerusalem.
This year, however, Israel decided not to grant these permits following a “situational assessment,” a COGAT spokesperson said.
The Gaza Strip has seen weekly, sometimes daily, clashes along the security fence with Israel since March 30, as part of “March of Return” protests leading up to Nakba Day.
These have included a number of attempts to damage and breach the security fence and, increasingly, the flying of kites bearing incendiary devices into Israeli territory, where they set fire to hundreds of acres of agricultural fields and grasslands.
West Bank Palestinians will be permitted to visit their family members in Israel from Sunday to Thursday, each week during the month-long holiday, as well as on the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.
Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv will be made available to West Bank Palestinians looking to travel abroad.
The hours of operation at crossing points between the West Bank and Israel will be extended. In addition, access will be granted to Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, COGAT said.
“The [liaison] unit works to preserve freedom of worship and religion and to participate in the holy month’s customs,” COGAT said.
Abu Rokon informed Palestinian Authority officials and relevant representatives of the international community of the measures.