Israel’s defense minister on Saturday extended a closure barring entrance to Israel for Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip for the duration of the Jewish holiday of Passover, while police beefed up forces in Jerusalem on the eve of sensitive religious celebrations.
The moves come after days of violence across the region at a time of heightened religious fervor – with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan coinciding with Passover and Easter celebrations. Jerusalem’s Old City, home to key Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites, has been teeming with visitors and religious pilgrims from around the world.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that a closure imposed last Wednesday, on the eve of Passover, would remain in effect until the holiday ends on Wednesday night. The order prevents Palestinians from entering Israel for work or to pray in Jerusalem this week, though mass prayers were permitted at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Friday. Gallant also ordered the Israeli military to be prepared to assist Israeli police. The army later announced that it was deploying additional troops around Jerusalem and in the West Bank.
Over 2,000 police were expected to be deployed in Jerusalem on Sunday – when tens of thousands of Jews are expected to gather at the Western Wall for the special Passover priestly blessing. The Western Wall is the holiest site where Jews can pray and sits next to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, where large crowds gather each day for prayers during Ramadan.
Jerusalem police chief Doron Turgeman met with his commanders on Saturday for a security assessment. He accused the Hamas militant group, which rules the Gaza Strip, of trying to incite violence ahead of Sunday’s priestly blessing with false claims that Jews planned to storm the mosque.