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Israel to close off West Bank, Gaza Strip for Jewish holiday

Israeli security forces are seen in the area where a Palestinian man allegedly tried to stab Israeli soldiers before being shot dead at a checkpoint near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, February 26, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

The Israeli regime plans to close off all entry points to the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip ahead of a Jewish holiday.

According to the Israeli army, the crossings to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will be sealed off on Friday and Saturday, the days of the so-called Passover holiday, over security concerns.

The decision on the blockades was made after “an evaluation of the security situation,” an Israeli military spokesperson said without elaborating.

The Israeli decision to block pathways comes as a move to bar Palestinians from the al-Aqsa Mosque in August 2015 caused a major outcry on the part of the Palestinians. The Israel-occupied territories have been the scene of tensions ever since.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also said that security measures will be tightened ahead of the holiday.

Soldier in execution released 

Israel also released from custody on Friday a soldier charged with manslaughter after shooting a wounded Palestinian. A military statement said Elor Azria was released home for the Passover holiday.

Azria, who also holds French citizenship, was charged on Monday with manslaughter and unbecoming conduct over the March 24 killing that took place in the southern West Bank city al-Khalil (Hebron). 

A widely circulated video showed Abdul Fatah al-Sharif, 21, lying on the ground, shot along with another man after allegedly stabbing and moderately wounding a soldier minutes earlier.

Azria, who was not at the scene during Sharif's alleged attack, then shoots him in the head without any apparent provocation. His lawyers argued he thought the Palestinian was wearing explosives.

Palestinian Authority halts UN bid

With Israel tightening its measures, the Palestinian Authority however said a push for a UN resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlement expansion will be put on hold.

Foreign Minister Riyad Maliki announced on Thursday that the Palestinians supported a French initiative to hold an international conference in May in an effort to revive so-called peace talks.

The Palestinians initially planned to get the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution that would condemn continued Israeli settlement construction as an obstacle to peace.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) and Foreign Minister Riyad Maliki (R)

Earlier reports had said that the Palestinian Authority had been under pressure from France and other countries to stop its efforts to push for the UN resolution.

French officials told President Mahmoud Abbas the the Palestinian bid was unlikely to succeed because the US would veto the resolution even if it received enough votes from other members.

In his Thursday remarks, Maliki said Palestinian and French leaders agreed during meetings in Paris a few days ago that the French initiative should move ahead and not be jeopardized “in any way” by the resolution.

Senior Israeli and Palestinian officials have said that the Egyptians, the Jordanians and the Saudis were not keen to see the draft resolution move forward at this time.

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