Israel beefs up security for Jerusalem religious ceremonies

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Israel’s defence minister has 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 fervour – 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.

Israel Palestinians Italy
People gather and lay flowers at the site where Alessandro Parini, an Italian tourist, was killed in a Palestinian attack, in Tel Aviv (AP)

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.

Mr 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.

Israel Palestinians Ramadan
Two Israeli border police officers are deployed to keep the order while Palestinians cross from the West Bank into Jerusalem (AP)

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.

Israel Palestinians Ramadan
Palestinians cross from the West Bank into Jerusalem, for the third Friday’s Ramadan prayers at the Al Aqsa mosque compound (AP)

The current round of violence erupted earlier in the week after Israeli police raided the mosque, firing tear gas and stun grenades to disperse hundreds of Palestinians who had barricaded themselves inside.

Violent scenes from the raid sparked unrest in the contested capital and outrage across the Arab world.

Damage from air strikes
Palestinians inspect damage from overnight Israeli air strikes in Gaza City on Friday (AP)

Israel responded with air strikes in both locations. Then on Friday, Palestinian assailants killed three people in a pair of attacks – in Tel Aviv and in the West Bank.

In Tel Aviv, people laid flowers and candles on Saturday next to photos of Alessandro Parini, an Italian tourist killed in the Friday night car ramming attack.

Israel’s foreign minister, Eli Cohen, spoke to his Italian counterpart, foreign minister Antonio Tajani, to express his condolences and later visited victims of the attack in a hospital with Italy’s ambassador to Israel.

Later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu named two British-Israeli sisters killed in a separate gun attack in the occupied West Bank on Friday.

The attack, by Palestinian assailants, came after Israel launched retaliatory air strikes at Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

Naming the sisters for the first time, Mr Netanyahu said: “On behalf of all the citizens of Israel, I send my condolences to the Di Mafart family for the murder of the two wonderful sisters, Rina and Maya Zakharan, in the severe attack in the Bekaa.

“In these moments, if the family is fighting for its life, and together with the entire nation of Israel, I pray for its safety, and we all send our condolences and strength to this dear family in this moment of great sorrow.”

The sisters’ mother was seriously injured in the shooting.

The family lived in the Efrat settlement, near the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, according to the settlement’s mayor Oded Revivi.

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