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Israel bars Palestinians after Tel Aviv attack

Israel last closed its crossings for two days in May during its Remembrance Day and Independence Day commemorations.

Published: 10th June 2016 02:38 PM  |   Last Updated: 10th June 2016 04:23 PM   |  A+A-

Mideast Israel Palest_Rich

Israeli soldiers prevent Palestinian residents from crossing a security checkpoint at the closed entrance of the West Bank village of Yatta, near Hebron. |AP

By AFP

JERUSALEM: The Israeli army said Friday that it was temporarily barring Palestinians from entering Israel, stepping up already tough restrictions announced after Palestinian gunmen shot dead four Israelis in Tel Aviv.

An army spokeswoman told AFP that crossings to Israel from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would be closed for Palestinians in all but "medical and humanitarian cases".

She said that the closure would remain in force until midnight Sunday.

A spokeswoman for COGAT, the defence ministry unit which manages civilian affairs in the occupied West Bank, said that about 10,000 Palestinians were nevertheless allowed into Jerusalem for Muslim prayers on the first Friday of Ramadan at the Al-Aqsa mosque complex.

The worshippers would have to return home after Friday prayers, the spokeswoman said.

Passage was unrestricted for Palestinian women, but there were age restrictions for men.

The age limit was not immediately clear, with crossing guards telling Palestinians that admission for males was restricted to those over 45 years of age, while other officials told AFP the threshold was either 35 or 30.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his security cabinet on Thursday and announced a slew of measures against Palestinians in the wake of Wednesday's shooting in a popular Tel Aviv nightspot, the deadliest attack in a months-long wave of violence.

Among the measures, the government said it was revoking entry permits for more than 80,000 Palestinians to visit relatives in Israel during Ramadan.

It also revoked work permits for 204 of the attackers' relatives and the army blockaded their West Bank hometown of Yatta, with soldiers patrolling and stopping cars as they entered and exited.

The government also said it was sending two additional battalions -- amounting to hundreds more troops -- into the occupied West Bank.

Assailants' bodies held

Newly installed Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman ordered that the bodies of Palestinians killed while carrying out attacks would no longer be returned to their families for burial, a spokesman said.

The policy is backed by Israeli hawks as a deterrent measure.

Israel last closed its crossings for two days in May during its Remembrance Day and Independence Day commemorations.

A closure is often imposed over Jewish holidays, when large numbers of Israelis congregate to pray or celebrate, presenting a potential target for Palestinian attacks.

The start of April's Passover festival saw this type of shutdown.

The closure announced Friday came as Israeli security forces deployed in Jerusalem, prepared for thousands of Muslim worshippers at Al-Aqsa.

"Thousands of police will be in and around the Old City of Jerusalem carrying out security measures," a police statement said.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said the police were there to safeguard both Muslim and Jewish prayer at the city's holy sites over the weekend, which will also see the Jewish festival of Shavuot begin late Saturday.

"We of course want to allow (Jewish) worshippers here in the Old City and throughout Jerusalem to pray in safety and also for Muslims to get here freely and allow them freedom of worship," he said in an address broadcast from the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray.

"We are in the wake of a harsh attack and we continue today to bury some of those murdered in the attack," Erdan said.

"The security forces and the police are doing everything they can, every day, and during the holiday ahead of us."

Violence since October has killed at least 207 Palestinians, 32 Israelis, two Americans, an Eritrean and a Sudanese.

Most of the Palestinians were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, according to Israeli authorities.

Others were killed in clashes with security forces or by Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip.

The violence had declined in recent weeks before Wednesday's deadly shooting.

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