GAZA CITY: For the first time in years, Israel has announced that it will provide temporary visitor permits to Gaza Strip residents during the Eid Al-Adha festival.
The decision will allow 400 Palestinians to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque, while 500 others will be permitted to visit first-degree relatives in the West Bank and Israel.
Ghassan Elyan, coordinator of Israeli government activities in the Palestinian Territories, announced on Facebook that 400 visitor permits to Jerusalem for men aged over 55 and women aged over 50 will be issued.
Their trips will take them from Erez Crossing to Al-Aqsa on shuttle buses. They will then return to Gaza on the same day.
The approval of the permits, Elyan said, came from Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz “after assessing the security situation.”
He also announced the provision of wider permissions to West Bank residents, including family visits to Israel without specifying the number of permits, 200 permits to visit the city of Eilat, as well as allowing 500 Palestinians to travel through Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.
Working hours at some crossings between the West Bank and Israel will be expanded. The crossing with Jordan will also be included in the expansion.
The move came as part of Israeli steps to quell tensions in the Gaza Strip and maintain peace in areas bordering Gaza, according to analysts.
Israel announced an increase in the quota of permits for Palestinians to work in the country from 10,000 to 12,000, despite rumors of an increase to 30,000 several months ago.
Mustafa Ibrahim, a Palestinian columnist, said that the move is an attempt to maintain calm and that the permits offered “do not change the reality of the Gaza Strip.”
Ibrahim told Arab News that without granting permits to at least 50,000 Palestinians to work in Israel, no change will occur in the Gaza Strip. “Israel forgets that the solution to the crisis in the Gaza Strip has to be political, not humanitarian,” he said.
The Palestinian Authority’s civil affairs department, which submits permit applications to Israel, announced that it was closing its permit line several hours after the Israeli decision due to a surge in applicants.
“Due to a huge number of citizens who have submitted requests to pray at Al-Aqsa and to visit relatives, and the limited number allowed by the Israeli side, we announce the closure of the counter to receive applications,” it said.
In previous years, Israel allowed elderly people residing in Gaza to visit Al-Aqsa, but the trips were halted due to what Israel described as a lack of security due to the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip.
Israel refuses to allow Palestinians residing in the Gaza Strip to visit their relatives in the West Bank, except in cases of marriage, death and sometimes visits to patients with first-degree relatives.
Israel laid a strict siege on Gaza since Hamas — which it considers a hostile entity — took control of the area in 2007. It only allows the humanitarian passage of patients and imposes severe restrictions on the import of goods.
Imad Khalil, 56, was among the early birds who submitted an application to pray at Al-Aqsa, hoping he could visit Islam’s third holiest site for the first time in about 25 years.
But Najat Muhammad was unable to submit her application to visit her family in the West Bank, because by the time her turn came, the counter to receive requests was closed. She has not seen her loved ones in eight years.
“Israel did not allow me to visit my mother and brothers in the city of Tulkarm. My father died eight years ago, and since then I have been trying to get a permit but to no avail, and now I have failed to apply for a permit again,” she told Arab News.