Gaza travel restrictions eased for Muslim holiday

2014-10-02 09:17
(File, AFP)

(File, AFP)

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Jerusalem - In a rare step Israel said on Wednesday it would let 500 Palestinians living in Gaza pray at a Jerusalem holy site during the Eid al-Adha feast at the weekend, and allow Palestinians from the West Bank to enter Israel more freely for the holiday.

The measures seen as Israel's most sweeping easing of restrictions on Palestinian movement since 2007 were announced as Washington issued statements condemning Israeli settlement expansion plans in Jerusalem, after President Barack Obama's White House talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Israeli military said that from 5 October through 7 the days of the Muslim feast, 500 Palestinians from Gaza aged 60 and over would be permitted to pray at the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, and 500 could visit close relatives in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinians living in the West Bank would be allowed unlimited travel to Israel for sightseeing and family visits over the holiday as well, the Israeli statement said.

Gaza would also be permitted to export agricultural produce to the West Bank, Israel said. Palestinian official Nazmi Mhana said it would be the first time since Israel blockaded Gaza when Hamas Islamists seized control there in 2007 that Gaza could sell its fish and vegetables in the West Bank.

‘Condemnation’

Palestinians saw the Israeli steps as meeting its obligations under an 26 August ceasefire ending a 50-day Gaza war to ease a blockade of the coastal territory. The Israeli military said the moves were part of a policy intended to "improve the fabric of life for Palestinian society".

More than 2 100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in the war in which 67 Israeli soldiers and six Israeli civilians also perished.

Israel captured the West Bank where Palestinians seek to establish a state, along with Gaza, in a 1967 war.

Israel withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005 but often confronts militants who have fired rockets at the Jewish state, though these tensions have eased since the war ended in August.

In Washington, where Netanyahu met with Obama, the State Department voiced concern about reports Israel had moved forward plans to build some 2 600 new settler homes in East Jerusalem.

"This development will only draw condemnation from the international community, distance Israel from even its closest allies, poison the atmosphere not only with the Palestinians but also with the very Arab governments with which Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu said he wanted to build relations," State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said.

It would also "call into question Israel's ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement", she added.

Israel sees East Jerusalem as part of its undivided capital in a position not recognised by most other countries. Palestinians want the city to be capital of a future state.

Read more on:    benjamin netanyahu  |  barack obama  |  israel  |  palestine  |  middle east peace

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