Heatwave, bikes and Jerusalem tensions: A wary Israel marks Yom Kippur
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Heatwave, bikes and Jerusalem tensions: A wary Israel marks Yom Kippur

Temperatures set to exceed 30ºC, West Bank and Gaza under closure, and rescue services on alert for annual scrapes as cyclists hit the deserted streets

Thousands of Jewish people gather for a mass prayer for forgiveness (slichot) at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, on the night before Yom Kippur on September 21, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Thousands of Jewish people gather for a mass prayer for forgiveness (slichot) at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, on the night before Yom Kippur on September 21, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Israelis preparing to begin the 25-hour Yom Kippur fast were greeted Tuesday by a heatwave, with meteorologists warning that temperatures would rise further on Wednesday. Meanwhile, recent tensions in Jerusalem have resulted in a bolstered police presence in the capital and a complete closure in the Palestinian territories.

The highest temperatures are expected in Eilat and Beersheba, reaching 38 degrees Celsius. In Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, temperatures are expected to reach 34 degrees at their peak, and climb to 35 in Tiberias.

On Thursday, temperatures will drop slightly and humidity rise again, but it will continue to be hotter than the seasonal average.

Magen David Adom and other emergency health services are on alert for the holiday, during which some Israelis in risk groups, like pregnant women and elderly people, often suffer health issues related to the stringent fast, in which neither food nor liquids are allowed. Those at risk were advised to seek medical advice before fasting.

Rescue personnel were also anticipating the usual spate of grazes, bumps and bruises stemming from the unofficial Yom Kippur tradition of riding bikes through Israel’s deserted streets. An informal ban on driving is customarily observed across the country for the duration of the holiday.

Israelis ride their bicycles on empty roads in Tel Aviv, on Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holidays. The photo was taken on October 03, 2014. (Danielle Shitrit/Flash 90)
Israelis ride their bicycles on empty roads in Tel Aviv, on Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holidays. The photo was taken on October 03, 2014. (Danielle Shitrit/Flash 90)

On Wednesday, the Muslim Eid el Adha begins. The Muslim festival, which celebrates the Sacrifice of Isaac, is marked by feasts in which lamb meat is eaten and converges with the solemnity of the Jewish Yom Kippur fast for two or three years in a row every 33 years.

Israeli police are on alert to quell any friction that may erupt from the two holidays occurring at the same time, with checkpoints deployed in several mixed Jewish-Arab cities in the country. The West Bank and Gaza Strip are under full closure throughout the Jewish holiday, and police forces have been bolstered in Jerusalem and its surrounding areas, in the wake of days of clashes during last week’s Rosh Hashanah holiday.

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