Middle East

Israel orders 48-hour shutdown in West Bank

Reuters

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak has ordered the army to seal off the West Bank for 48 hours until midnight on Saturday, a military official said on Friday. The action was taken "for security reasons" including a risk of attacks, the spokesperson said. The measure took effect at midnight on Thursday.

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Israeli police have also barred Muslim men under the age of 50 from prayers on Friday at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound, fearing unrest.

The clampdown follows violent clashes at Al-Aqsa, which is the holy Temple Mount to Jews, during last week's Muslim prayers. Tensions have also been rising over Israel's plans to build 1,600 homes for Jewish settlers in mostly Arab East Jerusalem.

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US Vice-President Joe Biden called for both sides to compromise as he visited Israel and Palestine this week in a bid to revive the Middle East peace process.

Some medical and religious workers, teachers and journalists will be exempted from the West Bank closure, according to the Israeli Defence Force.

Since the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in September 2000, Israel has regularly sealed off the West Bank ahead of major holidays, saying the move is necessary to prevent attacks. But such a blockade is rarely ordered on other occasions.

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