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War on Gaza: Israeli police and Shin Bet 'disagree on Al-Aqsa restrictions' during Ramadan

The disagreement comes as Israel's national security minister calls for ban on visits to Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan
Israeli security forces block a street in East Jerusalem as Palestinians take part in Friday noon prayers on 24 November 2023, following an age restriction for worshippers wanting to access Al-Aqsa Mosque (background) (AFP)

Israel's police has proposed deploying security forces in Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem throughout the duration of Ramadan, according to a report in Israel's Arabic language network Makan.

The move during the holy month will be aimed at dealing with the waving of Hamas flags and incitement, the report stated. The police also recommended setting age restrictions and limiting the number of Palestinian worshippers allowed access into the mosque complex.

However, the proposal was reportedly opposed by Israel's security service, the Shin Bet, which recommended unrestricted access for Palestinian worshippers. 

During discussions between various government agencies on the issue, security officials raised concerns that far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir would make decisions which could escalate tensions in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

On Saturday, Ben Gvir called for a ban on Palestinians visiting al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan, which begins on 10 March.

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The Israeli broadcaster Channel 12 reported that Ben Gvir is also pushing to ban Palestinian citizens of Israel below the age of 70 from entering the compound.

Efforts to halt Israel's four-month-old offensive on the Gaza Strip have been expressly complicated by Israel's plans to launch a military operation in Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah, where around 1.5 million people have sought refuge. 

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Prospects for a ceasefire before Ramadan further dimmed on Sunday, as mediator Qatar said that separate truce talks have hit an impasse, while the US said that it would veto a possible UN Security Council vote on a resolution next week.

In addition to the risk that restrictions on Al-Aqsa could spark unrest in the occupied West Bank - where Israel has stepped up its near daily raids since the start of the war on 7 October - an offensive on Rafah in the lead up to Ramadan could further inflame the situation.

At least 398 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces or settlers in the West Bank in the last four months, according to the Palestinian health ministry. 

The last major Israeli offensive on Gaza was sparked by weeks of tension during Ramadan in May 2021, where hundreds of Palestinians were wounded as Israeli security forces carried out raids on Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Hamas had demanded that Israel withdraw its security forces from the complex, before launching some of its rockets from Gaza into Israel.

Israel then launched an 11-day offensive on the Gaza Strip, killing at least 260 people and causing widespread destruction in the besieged enclave.

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