The Israeli government will not let civilian Muslim worshippers from Gaza enter Israel to pray at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque this week, in the midst of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, after a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed in Israel Tuesday night, an official told Ma’an News Wednesday.
Originally, 500 people from Gaza, part of the Palestinian territories, had planned to cross the border Thursday and Friday into Israel so they could attend prayers at al-Aqsa, the third holiest site in Islam, in Jerusalem. The allowance would have been a relaxation of the severe travel restrictions Israel typically imposes on Gazans and is supposed to serve as a gesture of goodwill during Ramadan as well as certain Muslim holidays. But Israel canceled that decision following the rocket attack.
"The security conditions around the crossing aren’t stable," said Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of Israeli government activities in the Palestinian territories, because the rocket had landed close to the Erez crossing, one of five points of entry into Gaza and the northernmost crossing into Israel.
The rocket landed in Ashkelon, a coastal city in southern Israel that sits north of the Gaza Strip, around 10:30 p.m. local time Tuesday, the Israel military confirmed, landing in an open space and causing no damage. It was not clear whether the rocket was fired by Hamas, the faction that controls Gaza, or by a rival group that has claimed ties to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. Recently, the latter group has taken responsibility for previous rocket attacks and threatened to carry out more.
Whether Gazans would be allow to travel into Israel in subsequent weeks would depend on security conditions, which Israel was expected to reassess next week.
Mordechai blamed Hamas for the fact that Gazans would not be allowed to enter Israel for prayers this week. “I am not saying that Hamas fired the missile, but Hamas is responsible because it controls the Gaza Strip,” he said.
After the decision, Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib, director of the Palestinian Ministry of Endowment, slammed Israel’s strict limits on travel for Palestinians overall. “All the people of Palestine have the right to access the city and pray in the Al-Aqsa Mosque in full freedom without the need for permits," he said, Ma’an News reported.
Israel has already blocked the travel plans of West Bank Palestinians, with 500 residents of that territory forbidden to travel through Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport to fly overseas, the newspaper Haaretz reported.