Security forces gear up for Ramadan as tensions remain high in Jerusalem, West Bank

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Israeli security forces are once again preparing for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which coincides with the Jewish holiday of Passover this year, and tensions are already high across the West Bank and in Jerusalem.

Police expect hundreds of thousands of visitors – mainly Palestinians – to flock to Jerusalem during Ramadan, a month of fasting, prayer and meditation observed by Muslims around the world, which is expected to begin on Wednesday or Thursday and ends April 21.

Ramadan has often been marked by conflicts and high tensions between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israeli and Palestinian Authority delegations met again on Sunday for a rare but low-stakes regional summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where they again pledged to de-escalate tensions ahead of Ramadan.

Meanwhile, senior defense officials have warned the government of an increase in alerts about possible terrorist attacks by Palestinians during the sensitive period.

Some officials have warned that the upcoming Ramadan could be the most difficult to handle in recent years, as tensions remained high amid deadly Israeli attacks on the West Bank and deadly Palestinian terror attacks , as well as an increase in settler violence.

Israeli soldiers are seen at the scene of a shooting attack in the West Bank town of Hawara, March 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

According to the Haaretz daily, during a recent meeting with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, military officials said that Israel’s ongoing internal unrest, the decline in popularity of the Palestinian Authority, an increase in Jewish nationalist attacks, and the actions of the minister National Security Itamar Ben Gvir. all contributing to a very volatile state in the West Bank.

A series of Palestinian attacks on Israel and the West Bank in recent months have left 15 people – mainly Israelis – dead and several others seriously injured. Many of the attacks that took place in the capital were carried out by Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem.

At least 85 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the year, most of them in attacks or during clashes with security forces, although some were unrelated civilians and others were killed under circumstances that are being investigated.

Some military officials are concerned by the high Palestinian death toll, which at this rate is set to surpass last year’s toll of 158, the highest since 2007.

The Israel Defense Forces estimates that the more Palestinians are killed during conflicts, the greater the likelihood that others will enter the “cycle of violence” and carry out terrorist attacks against Israelis.

Palestinian guns cover fire during clashes with Israeli security forces in the West Bank city of Nablus, December 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

In recent weeks the IDF has made “preemptive” arrests of dozens of Palestinians identified as the instigators of the violence, and they are expected to continue during Ramadan. Others wanted Palestinians who were allegedly planning terrorist attacks were killed or arrested during recent raids.

Police warned on Sunday about “those who try to take advantage of the holidays to spread incitement on social media, false rumors and disinformation, especially regarding the holy places.”

Police said terrorist groups and other terror elements have used Ramadan in the past to incite and cause riots in Jerusalem.

Law enforcement officials said police would act “without compromise against rioters and those who break the law, harm or attempt to harm those who pray and celebrate, or use the holidays to cause harm to civilians or security forces.”

Officers in the Jerusalem police district have held meetings over the past few days with various local officials and community leaders to coordinate holiday activities in the capital. IDF officers have held similar meetings with Palestinian officials in the West Bank in recent weeks.

File: Muslims take part in Eid al-Fitr prayers near the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on top of the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, Monday, May 2, 2022. Eid al-Fitr, a festival from breaking the fasting, the holy month of Ramadan ends. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Police said that on Friday during Ramadan, there would be an increased presence of police officers throughout Jerusalem, especially in the Old City and near the Temple Mount, as many worshipers are expected to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. A police official told reporters that there is a shortage of over 800 police officers in the Jerusalem area to properly ensure security.

For Palestinian Muslims, a central part of the festival is worship at the Al-Aqsa Mosque — the third holiest site in Islam. Jews revere the same hilltop as the Temple Mount, the holiest site in their tradition.

The Israeli army eased some movement restrictions for West Bank and Gazan Palestinians to allow women, children and some men to pray at Al-Aqsa without permits.

Illustrations: Ultra-Orthodox Jews, left, pray as Israeli police officers guard the entrance to the Al Aqsa Mosque, in the Old City of Jerusalem on April 19, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police said they are also preparing for Passover and Passover, which will take place during Ramadan this year.

“The purpose of the preparations and police activity in Jerusalem during Ramadan is to enable freedom of worship… while maintaining security, law and public order,” a police statement said.

“The police will act to secure all the worshipers who reach the holy places on these days, Muslims, Jews and Christians, with the aim of allowing freedom of worship for everyone,” the statement said.

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