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Israel eases Palestinian entry restrictions to Al-Aqsa ahead of Ramadan

With the Muslim month of Ramadan and the Jewish Passover week holiday overlapping this year, the issue of visits to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif compound gets more complicated than usual.
Israeli police officers stand on a rooftop near Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced on Monday an easement of restrictions for Palestinians wishing to enter Jerusalem and pray at Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif during the month of Ramadan.

The step is routine from Israel, but the current decision comes also on the backdrop of two US-initiated meetings, first in Aqaba, Jordan, and then in Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt, for calming increasingly growing tensions in the West Bank and in Jerusalem during the holiday month.

According to the new measures, Palestinian women, Palestinian men over the age of 55 and children up to the age of 12 living in the West Bank will be allowed to enter Israel and Haram al-Sharif compound in Jerusalem without a permit for the Ramadan Friday prayers. Palestinian men between the age of 45-55 will be able to enter the mosque compound subject to a permit, which in turn would be subject to a security approval. In comparison, last year, Palestinian men aged 50-55 and older were allowed to enter the compound without a special permit.

Another easement announced was allowing a certain number (the exact number was not communicated) of women aged 50 and over and men over 55 living in the Gaza Strip to visit Jerusalem between Sunday and Thursday. 

Additionally, Palestinians living in the West Bank will be allowed to visit family members living in Israel during Ramadan. Those living abroad would be allowed to visit family in the West Bank. Both cases, however, would be subject to Israeli security clearance. Palestinians living in the West Bank will be allowed to book tickets for certain flights abroad through the southern Ramon Airport, and crossing points between Israel and the West Bank will operate longer hours than usual.

Visiting the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif compound is highly regulated. Jews are allowed to ascend on certain hours in the mornings and in the afternoon. They are not allowed to pray there. For the past decade or so, Israeli Police limited visiting times for Jews during the month of Ramadan, usually authorizing that only in the morning hours. No visits were authorized for Jews in the last 10 days of Ramadan, which are considered the most holy days of the month.

This year, the situation is more complicated. Some of these last 10 days fall on the Jewish holiday of Passover, when Jewish activists are multiplying their visits to the compound. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir is himself an advocate for Jewish visits at the site and has called on numerous occasions to allow Jews to visit at any hour of the day and also to allow Jews to pray there. His wife, Ayala, is a member of one of the Temple Mount activist groups. As such, Ben-Gvir will surely be under pressure to allow Jewish activists to visit the compound during the Passover week.

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