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Israel seals off Ramallah to non-residents after shooting

Vehicles permitted to enter the Palestinian political and economic hub only after thorough Israeli military searches
Israeli soldiers secure the scene of a shooting at a checkpoint near Ramallah on Sunday (AFP)

Israel on Monday blocked entry for non-residents to the West Bank city of Ramallah and has limited access to residents a day after a Palestinian police officer shot three Israeli soldiers.

This is the first time since Israel invaded Ramallah during the second intifada that the Israeli military has imposed a closure of this scale, local residents told Middle East Eye.

It is also the first time since Israeli-Palestinian violence ramped up in October that Israeli forces have surrounded a city, Haaretz reported.

"In accordance with situation assessments following yesterday's shooting attack in Beit El, security measures have been taken in the area and only residents of Ramallah are allowed to enter the city," a military spokesperson said. 

The measure apply to foreigners as well and will be lifted depending on security assessments, the spokesperson said.

On Sunday, a Palestinian, identified by local media as Amjed Abu Amar, who had worked as a guard for the attorney general's office in Ramallah, opened fire at a checkpoint outside the city, wounding three Israeli soldiers before he was shot dead.

The same checkpoint, regularly used by diplomats, journalists and humanitarian workers, was closed on Monday morning, an AFP journalist reported, as were other entrances in the area.

Salah Khawaja, a coordinator of Palestinian popular committees, told Middle East Eye that some of the eight checkpoints in the governorate of Ramallah are letting residents pass through on Monday, but with difficulty.

Others remain completely shut and Palestinians who don't have Ramallah listed as their place of residence on their Israeli-issued IDs are not allowed to enter, he said.

"The point is to squeeze people between checkpoints and crossings as a form of collective punishment and to constrict their movement," Khawaja said.

Stuck in Ramallah

Fuad Afaneh, 30, an employee at the Arab Bank branch in Ramallah who lives in Nablus, said he's stuck in town until the restrictions are lifted.

"Some people told me that it's possible to get out through the bypass roads, but it may take a long time and also more money," he said. 

"So I preferred to stay in Ramallah to be able to go to my work, because the [Israeli] occupation announced that the closure will be [extended] for today."

The closure has also affected students in Ramallah who study in universities and colleges in other West Bank cities, who are now stuck.

First-year student Omar Rammal, a student at Dar al-Kalema College in Bethlehem, has been unable to get past the checkpoints and has missed two days of school so far.

"I was on the way to my college in Bethlehem, but the occupation authorities closed the Jaba' barrier which connects Ramallah to the central and southern governorates of the West Bank," he said.

"Because of the closure, I had to sleep in Ramallah at a friend's house," he added.

Accoding to Khawaja, there have been waves of partial closures corresponding to the events on the ground, but nothing of the scale of Monday's closure since the second intifada.

"Most of the closures in recent years have obstructed the needs of the Palestinian Authority in terms of closing a VIP road meant to be for the use of PA officials," Khawaja stated. "It was more about punishing individuals."

The decision, enforced by the military, was taken in accordance with instructions from the political leaders of Israel, according to Israeli daily Haaretz.

Social media users on Monday started an ironic hashtag in Arabic, Siege of Ramallah, comparing the situation in Ramallah to that of the Gaza Strip, which has been under an Israeli siege since 2007.
Translation: Ramallah challenges the siege! 53 newborns in 10 hours, 30 of them boys! #SiegeOfRamallah

Many Palestinians, aid workers and diplomats commute to Ramallah for work on a daily basis.

A wave of Palestinian knife, gun and car-ramming attacks erupted in October. Most of the attacks have been stabbings, although there have also been occasional shootings.

During this period, 161 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, most while allegedly carrying out attacks, while others have been killed during clashes and demonstrations.

The violence has also killed 25 Israelis, as well as an American and an Eritrean, according to an AFP count.

Elia Ghorbiah contributed to this report. 

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