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Jews hold rare prayers at the holy site in West Bank

First time in 18 years Jews were allowed to pray at site – Israel to close detention centre, deport migrants

HALHUL: Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, mostly from the Hasidim Breslov sect, run past Israeli soldiers as they rush to pray in front of the Younis mosque where, according to the Jewish medieval tradition, are the graves of the biblical prophets Gad and Nathan in the heart of the West Bank town of Halhul. —AFP

HALHUL: Hundreds of Israeli Jews held a rare prayers session by a mosque in a Palestinian village on the occupied West Bank yesterday, an AFP photographer said. The Israeli army accompanied busses carrying over 300 ultra-Orthodox men, mostly from the Breslov Hassidic sect, to Younis mosque in Halhul, north of Hebron, where according to Jewish tradition biblical prophets Gad and Nathan are buried.

One worshipper told AFP it was the first time in 18 years that Jews were allowed to pray at the site, deep in a Palestinian-controlled area. A military spokeswoman said the army and police forces accompanying the worshippers were attacked by Palestinians hurling “rocks and firebombs”, with the forces responding with riot dispersal means to “prevent further escalation”. No injuries were reported, the spokeswoman said.

According to tradition, the graves are located inside the mosque, but the Jewish worshippers did not enter the holy site, rather held an hour of pre-dawn prayers on the road outside before leaving, the photographer said. There are a number of sites holy to Jews in Palestinian-controlled areas in the West Bank that are the site of pilgrimages. Most popular are Rachel’s tomb near Bethlehem and the tomb of Joseph in Nablus. On Friday, a Palestinian from Halhul rammed his car into Israeli civilians nearby, wounding two before trying to stab soldiers and being shot. The army arrested a number of his family members and imposed a partial closure on the village, which by Sunday had been lifted, the army said.

In another development, Israel’s cabinet voted yesterday to close a migrant detention centre, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced an agreement to deport 40,000 Africans who entered the country illegally. Ministers unanimously approved plans to shutter the Holot centre in southern Israel and gave migrants a three-month deadline to leave the country or face deportation, said the interior and public security ministries. “The infiltrators will have the option to be imprisoned or leave the country,” the public security ministry said in a statement.

Israeli official figures from June 30 show a total of 38,043 African migrants in the country. They include 27,494 Eritreans and 7,869 Sudanese, and their presence in south Tel Aviv has raised discontent among Israelis there and elsewhere. Speaking ahead of the vote, Netanyahu noted that after building a fence on the Egyptian border and deporting some 20,000 African migrants through various deals, Israel has reached the third stage of its efforts-“accelerated removal”.

“This removal is taking place thanks to an international agreement I reached that enables us to remove the 40,000 infiltrators remaining, remove them without their consent,” he told ministers. “This will enable us to close down Holot and allocate some of the large funds going there to inspectors and removing more people,” said Netanyahu. Holot, an open facility in the desert that can host 1,200 migrants who are allowed to leave to work during the day, would be closed three months from December 16, according to the decision. A public security ministry spokesman said an extension to that deadline would be set if necessary. Ahead of the vote, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Holot had become “a hotel for infiltrators at the tax-payers’ expense that does not encourage their exit” and costs 240 million shekels ($68 million, 58 million euros) a year.

In a Twitter statement, Erdan however stressed the closure of Holot was conditioned on “us seeing that the policy of removing infiltrators to a third country was indeed taking place.” Neither Erdan nor Netanyahu gave details about the deal and the third country. Israel tacitly recognizes the Sudanese and Eritreans cannot be returned to their dangerous homelands, so it has signed deals with Rwanda and Uganda, which agree to accept departing migrants on condition they consent to the arrangement, according to activists.- Agencies

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