Israel beefs up security for Yom Kippur holiday
Israel boosted security and barred Palestinians from entering from the occupied West Bank or the Gaza Strip ahead of the solemn Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur that began yesterday evening. Thousands of Jews visit the Western Wall in east Jerusalem’s Old City around Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement, which ends today evening. The same occurred for last week’s Rosh Hashanah holiday and will take place again for next week’s Sukkot festival. Last year’s holiday period led to clashes and marked the start of an upsurge in Palestinian gun, knife and carramming attacks. Israeli security forces are on especially high alert after a Palestinian gunman killed two people in Jerusalem on Sunday.
More than 3,000 police are being deployed in the city for Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said roadblocks had been mounted. On Monday night, tens of thousands of Jews crowded into the square around the Western Wall, Rosenfeld said.Prayers led by Israel’s two chief rabbis began shortly after midnight and continued until sunrise for some worshippers, in one of the largest Jewish ceremonies of the year. Moshe Cohen, a 19year-old from Jerusalem, said the ceremony was among the most important days in the Jewish calendar. “You pray and you get free (of ) all the bad things you do,” he said. “You feel connected to God.”
Cohen said he felt the number of faithful was roughly similar to last year. Rosenfeld did not provide a specific figure. Many Palestinian shops in the Old City were closed. Near the Lions’ Gate entry to the Old City, used by many Palestinians, Israeli forces erected a temporary barrier stopping cars from going further. Closures of the Palestinian territories are often put in place for major Jewish holidays. This week’s lockdown applies only to Palestinians and not the roughly 400,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank.
Gaza is always under an Israeli blockade, though some crossings are usually allowed for work or medical purposes. Humanitarian and urgent medical cases will be allowed through during the holiday, the army said. Beyond visits to the Western Wall, the holidays also see more Jews visit the adjacent Al-Aqsa mosque compound. The site is holy to both Muslims and Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount. It is central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Palestinians fearing Israel may one day seek to assert further control over it.
On Sunday, a 39-year-old Palestinian who saw himself as an Al-Aqsa protector went on a shooting rampage in Jerusalem, killing two Israelis. The attacker, Misbah Abu Sbeih, who was reportedly scheduled to begin a prison term on the same day, was killed by police after he fled into an east Jerusalem neighborhood. — AFP