JERUSALEM: Israel allowed hundreds of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip into Jerusalem for Ramadan prayers Friday, an official said, a week after revoking entry permits in response to a deadly attack. The 300 Palestinians are believed to be the first from the blockaded enclave to be granted entry to pray since Israel shut the border after Palestinian gunmen killed four Israelis at a Tel Aviv nightspot on June 8.
That measure came during the first week of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when tens of thousands of Palestinians visit Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem. The permits issued for Friday were the regular weekly quota for worshippers at Al-Aqsa, said a spokeswoman for COGAT, the Israeli defense ministry unit which manages civilian affairs for Palestinians in the West Bank and liaises with Gaza. “Larger numbers were supposed to enter for Ramadan. That has been cancelled,” she said.
Israel imposed a tight air, sea and land blockade on Gaza in 2006, designed to prevent the Islamist Hamas movement that controls the territory from rearming. Around 53,000 Palestinians from the West Bank were also allowed into Jerusalem on Friday to pray at Al-Aqsa, the spokeswoman said. Thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank had already been allowed to go there last week in an exception to the entry ban, she noted. The mosque compound, a frequent focal point of Palestinian-Israeli tensions, is revered by both Muslims and Jews, who refer to the site as the Temple Mount.
The Tel Aviv attack was the deadliest in a wave of violence that began in October. One of the two attackers was arrested, while the other was shot and underwent surgery. Further details have been placed under a gag order by the Israeli authorities while the investigation continues.-AFP