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IDF to impose 4-day West Bank, Gaza closure on Palestinians for Purim holiday

Crossings to close on Sunday and reopen Thursday, pending ‘situational assessment,’ military says; exceptions to be made for humanitarian cases

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Israelis in Hebron parade through the streets in celebration of the Purim holiday on March 21, 2019. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)
Israelis in Hebron parade through the streets in celebration of the Purim holiday on March 21, 2019. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

The Israel Defense Forces on Friday announced it would close the crossings into Israel from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to Palestinians for four days beginning 12:01 a.m. Sunday, ahead of next week’s Purim holiday.

The military said an exception would be made for the Gaza Strip’s Kerem Shalom Crossing — the main terminal for commercial goods into the enclave — which would close only for 24 hours, from Tuesday at 12:01 a.m. to Wednesday.

The closure for the rest of the crossings — a standard practice for religious and national holidays — was scheduled to be a day longer than normal for the Purim festival, which begins on Monday evening in most of the country. A military spokesperson said this was not due to concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus or any other issue, but was decided out of practical considerations.

Israel on Thursday announced that Bethlehem in the West Bank would be closed off due to the coronavirus.

The Palestinian Authority declared an unprecedented state of emergency in the West Bank on Thursday after seven Bethlehem residents were confirmed to be carrying the coronavirus, shutting schools, banning tourists and placing restrictions on gatherings and movement between cities.

Israel placed Bethlehem on lockdown, banning Israelis and Palestinians from entering or leaving the storied city, as officials from both governments race to contain the virus’s spread in Palestinian population centers.

The military said the Purim closure would begin on Sunday and last through Wednesday, ending at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, pending a “situational assessment.”

The IDF said exceptions would be made for “humanitarian, medical and special cases” with approval from the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

The joyous Purim holiday celebrates the story of the Book of Esther, which tells of the Jewish people’s near extermination in ancient Persian followed by their salvation. The holiday, which is marked by feasts and costume parties, has the unique feature of being celebrated on two different days. On Monday night and Tuesday, the holiday is celebrated everywhere except for Jerusalem; and on Tuesday night and Wednesday it is held in the capital, in what is known as Shushan Purim.

The closure will affect the tens of thousands of Palestinians who legally work in Israel every day, most of them in construction and maintenance.

Israeli citizens will still be permitted to move between the West Bank and Israel.

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