Israel closed off the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip today for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, the army said, as concerns rose over whether visits to a sensitive holy site could lead to violence. The restrictions barring Palestinians from entering would remain in place through Monday, but humanitarian cases would be allowed passage, said an army spokeswoman. Sukkot usually sees an increase in the number of Jewish visitors to the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound in east Jerusalem, which has led to clashes in past years. The site is sacred to both Muslims and Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount. Israel occupied east Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it, and the holy site is central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Palestinians fear Israel may one day seek to assert further control over it. Sunday evening marks the beginning of Sukkot, a week-long holiday to commemorate the Jewish journey through the Sinai wilderness to the Holy Land after their exodus from Egyptian slavery. It is the third of three successive Jewish holidays that have led to tensions with the Palestinians in the past. Last week, Jews marked Yom Kippur, while Rosh Hashanah, or New Year, was the previous week. A Palestinian gun attack in Jerusalem on October 9 that killed two people raised fears of further violence. Last year's holiday period led to clashes and marked the start of an upsurge in Palestinian gun, knife and car-ramming attacks.
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