JERUSALEM (Mar. 31)
The Defense Ministry announced Thursday night that the three-day closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip will end Friday morning, as scheduled.
The territories were sealed off at midnight Monday in order to contain violence associated with Land Day on Wednesday, a day of Palestinian protests.
Effective Friday morning, the status quo will be restored. Travel to and from the West Bank will be permitted. The Jordan River bridges, which had been closed to West Bank residents, will be reopened in both directions.
The Gaza Strip will be open to travel during the day. A nightly curfew will remain in effect from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.
The news media will be allowed free access to the territories without escort by Israel Defense Force officers, except when local commanders temporarily close specific areas for operational reasons.
The decision to lift the blockade on the territories followed a day of consultations among senior defense establishment officials over the pros and cons of continuing the restrictions beyond the Friday deadline.
Military authorities were convinced that the virtual isolation of the Palestinian population from outside contact made it easier for the army to control events. They credited the massive presence of IDF troops and stringent security measures with preventing a string of planned terrorist attacks on Wednesday and with keeping militant nationalist youths from crossing into Israel proper.
There was violence on Wednesday. According to official accounts, four Palestinians were killed and 50 injured in clashes with the IDF in the West Bank. But it did not spill over into Israel proper.
The IDF chief of staff, Gen. Dan Shomron, said Thursday he was “satisfied” with the results of the three-day closure.
A LESSON LEARNED?
Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Mordechai, commander of the southern region, which includes the Gaza Strip, expressed hope that the people of Gaza “who are sensible people when they are not misled by rabble-rousers, will learn the lesson.”
“The army is deployed in sufficient force and intends to confront any violent breach of the peace,” he said. “It is not worth their while to resume these activities.”
But the “lesson” apparently was not learned. As soon as the curfew in the Gaza Strip was lifted Thursday, violence burst out in Rafah, at the southern end of the territory, leading to a shooting incident in which one man was wounded. There also was trouble in the sprawling Jabalya refugee camp, where the army promptly reimposed the curfew.
The lifting of restrictions on press coverage did not apply to the Palestine Press Service, based in East Jerusalem, which the IDF ordered closed for six months Wednesday, claiming that it is a propaganda arm of the Palestine Liberation Organization that was disseminating hostile information to the foreign news media.
Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry imposed travel restrictions on East Jerusalem Arabs who, unlike those in the territories, have the status of residents of Israel.
A NEW TRAVEL BAN
Effective Friday, East Jerusalem Arabs between the ages of 16 and 25 will not be allowed to travel to Jordan, unless they commit themselves to remain abroad for more than nine months.
The official explanation is that members of that age group would use trips to Jordan to contact hostile elements. But the measure also was seen as punishment of East Jerusalem Arabs for staging disturbances there in sympathy with those in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the past four months.
It is the first time Arab residents of East Jerusalem will be subjected to the same type of restrictions that have been applied to those in the territories.
The restrictions will not apply to persons making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, a religious duty for Moslems.
In the West Bank, meanwhile, Palestinians have imposed their own curfew. There is total observance of a general strike. Residents remain in their homes.
All shops and businesses have been closed for the past two days, except for designated hours to allow householders to stock up on essentials. But the IDF has continued its policy of forcing striking shop owners to remain closed the entire day as long as they refuse to return to normal business hours.