Israel locks down West Bank, Gaza for Passover holiday

Abdel Raouf Arnaout

RAMALLAH: The Israeli army has locked down the Palestinian territories for nine days in advance of the upcoming weeklong Jewish Passover holiday.

“In line with our assessments of the security situation, and with the approval of the political leadership, a comprehensive closure will be imposed on the [occupied] West Bank and all crossings with the [blockaded] Gaza Strip from Thursday night until Saturday night, Apr. 7,” reads an army statement.

The move will deny Palestinians access to their places of work in Israel, while movement through Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank will be restricted to “humanitarian” cases.

On Friday, Jews will mark the beginning of Passover, which commemorates the Israelites’ exodus out of Egypt under Prophet Moses. It is considered one of the most important holidays of the Jewish religious calendar.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army will use live ammunition to disperse planned Friday rallies in the Gaza Strip, according to Israel’s army chief-of-staff.

“We are reinforcing the barriers [along the Gaza-Israel border] while large numbers of [Israeli] soldiers will be stationed in the area to prevent infiltration attempts,” Israeli Army Chief-of-Staff Gadi Eizenkot said Wednesday.

Soldiers have received permission to open fire on protesters “if Israeli security infrastructure comes under threat,” Eizenkot told Israeli daily Maariv.

“Last year, hundreds were injured after they tried to destroy parts of the [border] fence,” he said. “We will not stand for this.”

Speaking to Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Eizenkot said the Israeli army had deployed more than 100 sharpshooters in advance of Friday’s planned rallies.

“If lives are in jeopardy, [soldiers will have] permission to open fire,” he said.

Eizenkot made the remarks only two days before planned demonstrations during which Gazan protesters hope to converge en masse on the Gaza Strip’s 45-kilometer eastern border with Israel.

Dubbed the “Great Return March”, the event is intended to pressure Israel to lift its decade-long siege of the Gaza Strip and reaffirm the Palestinians’ right to return to their homes in historical Palestine. (AA)