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Jerusalem on high alert for first Friday prayers of Ramadan

Thousands of police and volunteers deployed in Old City, Arab areas of capital, two days after deadly Tel Aviv attack

Palestinians pray in front of the Dome of the Rock on Jerusalem's Temple Mount during the first Friday noon prayers of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan on June 10, 2016. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)
Palestinians pray in front of the Dome of the Rock on Jerusalem's Temple Mount during the first Friday noon prayers of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan on June 10, 2016. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)

Jerusalem police were on high alert for the first Friday prayers of the month-long Muslim holiday of Ramadan, two days after four Israelis were shot dead by Palestinian terrorists at a Tel Aviv food market.

Thousands of police, Border Police and volunteer officers were patrolling the narrow and winding alleyways of the Old City as well as in the neighborhoods and villages of predominantly Arab East Jerusalem, Israel National News said.

Police were bracing for disruptions at close of prayers on the flashpoint Temple Mount, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and said that they would act determinedly against anyone who attempted to breach the peace.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians were expected to attend Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa, despite new restrictions on movement announced after the deadly attack on Wednesday.

In an initial Israeli response to the Tel Aviv shooting, the Defense Ministry’s civil administration in the Palestinian territories, COGAT, said early Thursday that it had frozen 83,000 permits for Palestinians in the West Bank to visit relatives in Israel during Ramadan. Special Ramadan permits were also suspended for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to travel out of the territory to attend prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque for West Bank Palestinians who had received advance permits, however, was unchanged.

Palestinians pass through Israeli security at a checkpoint in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, as they head to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem for the first Friday prayers of Ramadan on June 10, 2016. (Photo by Wisam Hashlamoun/FLASH90)
Palestinians pass through Israeli security at a checkpoint in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, as they head to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem for the first Friday prayers of Ramadan on June 10, 2016. (Photo by Wisam Hashlamoun/FLASH90)

The army also announced that it had deployed two additional battalions — comprising hundreds of troops from infantry and special forces units — to the West Bank.

The Israel Defense Forces said late Thursday that it was sealing off the West Bank and Gaza Strip for the Shavuot holiday, with the closure beginning overnight Thursday-Friday and lasting until late Sunday night, when the one-day holiday ends.

“In accordance with government directives and the ongoing situation assessment, as of today crossing from the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) will be open to Palestinians only in medical and humanitarian cases,” an IDF spokesperson told AFP on Friday.

She said that the closure would remain in force until midnight Sunday.

Israeli security forces at the scene where a terrorist opened fire at the Sarona Market shopping center in Tel Aviv, on June 8, 2016. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Israeli security forces at the scene where a terrorist opened fire at the Sarona food market in Tel Aviv, on June 8, 2016. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

While the move is among a slew of measures imposed in response to the deadly terror attack at the Sarona Market, the army generally seals off the West Bank on Jewish holidays.

Wednesday’s shooting, carried out by two West Bank Palestinians, was among the deadliest and most brazen attacks since violence erupted last October.

The two terrorists were named in Palestinian media reports as cousins Muhammad and Khalid Muhamra. One of the men was shot by a security guard after the attack and was seriously injured; the second was arrested by police and taken in for questioning. Both came from the West Bank town of Yatta, south of Hebron.

AFP contributed to this report

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