West Bank, Gaza to be closed off for Simhat Torah holiday
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West Bank, Gaza to be closed off for Simhat Torah holiday

Palestinians barred from entering, exiting Israel for 48 hours from 11:59 p.m. Saturday; exceptions for humanitarian cases

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

Illustrative: IDF soldiers man a checkpoint near the West Bank city of Hebron, on July 2, 2016. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Illustrative: IDF soldiers man a checkpoint near the West Bank city of Hebron, on July 2, 2016. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces will close off the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Saturday for the Simhat Torah holiday, which begins Sunday evening. Palestinians will be barred passage into Israel for 48 hours beginning at 11:59 p.m. Saturday.

The army said exceptions would be made for medical emergencies and other “humanitarian cases,” dependent upon the approval of the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).

Simhat Torah, a festival of the Jewish Bible, is celebrated at the tail-end of the week-long Sukkot holiday. A closure on the West Bank and Gaza was similarly imposed at the start of Sukkot.

The checkpoints and crossings are expected to re-open on Monday at 11:59 p.m., dependent upon a “situational assessment,” the army said in a statement.

Ordinarily, tens of thousands of Palestinians pass through the checkpoints between Israel and the West Bank each day. Though Gaza is often considered a sealed area, some residents with special permits are able to enter and exit through the Erez Crossing into Israel.

The IDF previously shut down the West Bank’s checkpoints on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, last week, and on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, earlier this month.

While the army routinely seals off the West Bank and Gaza on Jewish holidays, such a closure was not imposed last year, when there were significantly more attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces. However, during last year’s Simhat Torah holiday, police closed off Jerusalem’s Old City to Palestinians after a number of stabbing attacks in the area.

Security has been tight for this year’s Jewish High Holiday season, which began in early October, with fears of a new surge in violence, particularly following a Palestinian terror attack in Jerusalem earlier this month in which a gunman killed two Israelis.

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