Palestinian motorists drove freely out of this bustling West Bank city for the first time in six years on Saturday after Israel eased long-standing travel restrictions in an apparent goodwill gesture ahead of a Muslim holiday.
The move was the latest sign of improving cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces in the West Bank. After years of fighting, Israel has begun to allow Palestinian security forces in the West Bank to maintain law and order in several major Palestinian population centers in recent months.
In contrast, Israel continues to battle militants in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Late on Saturday, Israel launched a pair of airstrikes against rocket launchers in northern Gaza. One attack wounded two militants as they tried to fire a rocket, one critically, Palestinian officials said.
In Nablus, Palestinians crowded into cars to take advantage of their newfound freedom.
“I hope this is permanent,” said Wissam Hassouna, a 37-year-old grocer who planned to go for a drive with his wife and children.
“I really want to drive quickly in my car. I’ve never taken my car outside of Nablus before. I want to know what it feels like to speed,” he said, as he waited in a line to pass through the Hawara checkpoint.
Hawara is among the biggest and most notorious Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank. Nablus residents typically wait in long lines to pass through the heavily fortified crossing on foot.
Palestinian taxi drivers said they were told by Israeli soldiers that the measure was a goodwill gesture for the Muslim holiday Id al-Adha, or the “Feast of the Sacrifice,” which begins today.
The Israeli army said there had not been any special order for Hawara on Saturday, but that the improved traffic flow was part of a larger policy of trying to ease movement for Palestinians.
Elsewhere in the West Bank, two Jewish settlers turned themselves in to police after an Israeli human rights group filmed a shooting attack on Palestinian civilians.
Settlers went on a rampage last Thursday after Israeli forces evicted a group of squatters from a contested building in the city of Hebron.
The film shows what appears to be a Jewish settler firing shots at Palestinian stone throwers from close range. A second settler is seen throwing rocks at the Palestinians.
Police spokesman Danny Poleg said two men from the hardline settlement of Kiryat Arba near Hebron surrendered to police late on Saturday.