Israel to ease Palestinians’ entry to Jerusalem ahead of Ramadan
Women, children and men over 55 from West Bank able to take part in Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque without permits; some Gazans to be allowed into Israel during the week
Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.
The military’s liaison to the Palestinians on Monday announced an easing of entry restrictions for West Bank and Gazan Palestinians to Jerusalem ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
In a statement, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said women of all ages, children up to the age of 12, and men above the age of 55 from the West Bank will be allowed to enter Israel to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on Fridays without an existing entry permit.
For Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, an unspecified number of Palestinians will be allowed to visit Jerusalem between Sundays and Thursdays during Ramadan. COGAT said such permits will be given to women above the age of 50 and men above the age of 55.
Additionally, COGAT said visits by West Bank Palestinians to family members in Israel are also to be approved, as well as visits by foreigners to Palestinians in the West Bank, all of which are subject to security approval.
West Bank Palestinians were also given the approval to fly abroad during Ramadan via the Ramon Airport. Israel first allowed Palestinians to use the airport in southern Israel in August.
COGAT said that during Ramadan, the working hours of various crossings and checkpoints in and out of the West Bank would be extended.
The planned moves are subject to further security assessments and may change depending on developments, COGAT said.
Police anticipate hundreds of thousands of visitors — mainly Palestinians — to Jerusalem during Ramadan, a month of fasting, prayer, and reflection observed by Muslims worldwide, which is expected to begin Wednesday or Thursday and end April 21.
For Palestinian Muslims, worship at the Al-Aqsa Mosque — the third-holiest site in Islam — is a central part of the festival. Jews revere the same hilltop as the Temple Mount, the holiest site in their tradition.
Police said that on Fridays during Ramadan, there would be an increased presence of police officers throughout Jerusalem, especially in the Old City and near the Temple Mount, as numerous worshipers are expected to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. A police official told reporters that the Jerusalem district has a shortfall of over 800 police officers to properly ensure security.
Ramadan has often been marked by clashes and high tension between Israel and the Palestinians.