Sat, Sep 15, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Palestinians rush to Jerusalem mosque for Ramadan as Israeli tanks enter Gaza

AGENCIES , QALANDIA CROSSING, WEST BANK AND GAZA

Hundreds of Palestinians thronged two major West Bank checkpoints, trying to reach a key Islamic shrine in Jerusalem on the first Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan yesterday, despite tight Israeli restrictions.

Israeli troops turned back many of the West Bank faithful. Only men above the age of 45 and women above the age of 35, who had also obtained special permits, were allowed to enter Jerusalem's al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest shrine of Islam, said police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby.

This year, the start of Ramadan, a month of fasting and religious observance, coincided with the Jewish New Year. As customary, Israel imposed a blanket closure on the West Bank during the Jewish holiday, barring virtually all Palestinians from entering Israel.

Hundreds of Israeli police were deployed in streets and alleys in and around Jerusalem's walled Old City where the al Aqsa Mosque compound is located.

Troops also took up positions at two major West Bank checkpoints, one to the south of Jerusalem and one to the north. The checkpoints are built into Israel's West Bank separation barrier, which surrounds most of Jerusalem to control Palestinian movement into Israel.

At the southern checkpoint, near the biblical town of Bethlehem, hundreds of Palestinians, many of them elderly, pushed up against police lines set up near a towering separation wall.

Israel says it imposes the restrictions to prevent possible attacks by Palestinian militants. Ramadan is a time of heightened religious fervor which security officials fear could increase the motivation for carrying out attacks.

Meanwhile, a small Israeli ground force entered the southern Gaza Strip at dawn on yesterday, the army and local residents said.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

An Israeli army spokesman confirmed military activity in the area against what he called "terror threats."

Israeli forces frequently carry out operations in border areas.

Local residents said the Israeli force included tanks and other armored vehicles. The army offered no details.

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