The Defense Ministry announced Tuesday that it is making unprecedented "gestures" and is letting in hundreds of Arab residents of Gaza, Judea and Samaria to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount – the holiest site in Judaism – for the Muslim month of Ramadan.
The announcement on eased traveling regulations comes a day before Ramadan begins, and may strike many as controversial given that the Jordanian Waqf has been allowed to ban Jewish prayer on the Mount, despite Israeli laws ensuring freedom of religion and freedom of worship.
Arab men aged over 40 and all Arab women in Judea-Samaria will have access to the Mount, and 800 Arab residents of Gaza will be allowed in for Friday prayers. Another 500 Arabs in Judea-Samaria will be let into Gaza, 300 Palestinian Arabs living abroad will be allowed into Gaza to visit family, and 500 Arab residents of Judea-Samaria will be permitted to fly from Ben-Gurion International Airport.
"For the first time, the arrival of worshipers will be allowed via bus directly from the city centers to the Temple Mount," Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai announced, indicating that Arab residents of Judea and Samaria will have direct access from their cities in a "first," with security checks presumably being conducted there by Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces.
"The IDF will allow the entry of all Palestinians, men and women without a special permit, with the exception of men between the ages of 30 to 40," he added. "The departure of 500 residents from Judea and Samaria abroad via Ben Gurion Airport has been confirmed, and 500 families from the Gaza Strip have been approved to visit residents of Judea and Samaria."
The ministry statement noted an additional first, saying "for the first time, 200 families from Gaza have been approved to visit residents in the West Bank during Ramadan and the Eid-al-Fitr holiday."
Israel began allowing Gaza residents to pray at the Mount on Fridays last October as a "gesture" following last summer's terror war by Hamas in the coastal enclave against the Jewish state, and has continued allowing hundreds to come on Fridays since then.
It has been the first time since 2007, when Hamas took control over Gaza, that Muslim worshippers from Gaza were allowed to visit the Mount according to leftist groups.
Gazans have taken advantage of the gesture by staging protests and waving flags in support of Hamas on the Mount.
Jews have by contrast been forbidden from praying at the holy site, and are even forbidden from bringing Jewish symbols with them to the Temple Mount – those symbols have at times even included grape juice.