The Israeli military said on Friday the West Bank will be closed off until the end of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot on Sunday, due to security concerns following a Palestinian shooting attack this week in Tel Aviv that killed four Israeli civilians.
The army said that crossings will be open for “humanitarian and medical” cases only and for Palestinians to worship at al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians attended prayers at the mosque on Friday, the first of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Police were on high alert in Jerusalem and prayers passed peacefully.
Much of the past months of violence stems from tensions at the hilltop compound. Muslims refer to it as the Noble Sanctuary, and it is their third holiest site, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. It is the holiest site for Jews, who call it the Temple Mount because of the revered Jewish temples that stood there in biblical times.
West Bank closures are often imposed ahead of holidays in Israel when there are fears of Palestinian attacks. Tensions are especially high now after Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded five others in a popular and crowded area of Tel Aviv on Wednesday night.
The military said it arrested several people in connection to that attack in the West Bank overnight but there were no further details. In raids Friday morning in the territory, Israeli troops found two workshops Palestinians used for manufacturing weapons, including the improvised home-made gun used in Wednesday’s attack.
Over the last eight months, Palestinians have carried out dozens of attacks on civilians and security forces, mostly stabbings, shootings and car ramming assaults that have killed 32 Israelis and two Americans. About 200 Palestinians have been killed during that time, most identified as attackers by Israel. The assaults were once near-daily incidents but they have become less frequent in recent weeks.
The day after the Palestinian shooting, Israel froze 83,000 permits for Palestinians in the West Bank to visit relatives in Israel. The army imposed checkpoints to restrict movement in and out of the village where the Palestinian gunmen in the Tel Aviv attack were from.
The office of the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, on Friday condemned the Tel Aviv shooting.
Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said that Israel had an “obligation” to bring those responsible to account, but said some measures punish “thousands of innocent Palestinians” and could constitute “collective punishment.”
Later in the day, a Palestinian tried to stab soldiers in the West Bank who opened fire and wounded him, the military said. The Palestinian was evacuated to hospital for treatment, it said.
The military says the closure will end Sunday night after the Shavuot holiday.
SOURCE: The Associated Press