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US embassy bars staff, families from entering Old City on Ramadan Fridays

The embassy announced the restriction "due to the potential for security incidents."

The Old City in Jerusalem. Photo by Menachem Wecker.
The Old City in Jerusalem. Photo by Menachem Wecker.

Citing the “potential for security incidents,” the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem issued a security alert on Tuesday barring U.S. government employees and their families from entering the Old City in Jerusalem from midnight Friday morning until midnight Saturday morning.

“The U.S. embassy in Jerusalem reminds U.S. citizens of the continued need for caution and increased personal security awareness as security incidents often take place without warning,” it stated. “The security environment remains complex and can change quickly depending on the political situation and recent events.”

The embassy added that travel “remains limited” for U.S. government employees in the West Bank. (Current House legislation calls for official U.S. documents and materials to refer to “Judea and Samaria” rather than “West Bank” to fully reflect the ancient history of the Jewish homeland.)

“U.S. government employees under chief of mission security responsibility are currently restricted from all personal travel in the West Bank,” except with three exceptions, the embassy stated.

U.S. government employees can, at any time, use Routes 1, 90 and 443; travel in a personal capacity to Jericho; and can go during the day to Inn of the Good Samaritan, An-Nabi Musa, Wadi Qelt Nature Preserve and St. George’s Monastery along Route 1; and Qumran, Kalia Beach, St. Gerasimos/Khogla Monastery, Al Auju and Qasr al-Yaud baptismal site along Route 90.

The order to avoid the Old City during Ramadan Fridays appears to indicate that Jewish employees of the embassy could not pray to welcome Shabbat at the Western Wall, or Kotel. JNS sought comment from the embassy.

Aa U.S. embassy spokesperson, who declined to be named, later responded to a query about whether Jewish U.S. government staff would be allowed to pray at the Kotel on Friday nights by referring JNS back to the Message Alert System for Citizens Overseas Tool (MASCOT) message that the embassy had posted.

Asked how many Jewish U.S. government employees there are in Jerusalem—for whom the apparent restriction would apply—the spokesperson said, “As a matter of policy, we do not discuss internal personnel matters.”

“Israel’s policy has always been, and always will be, to safeguard freedom of worship for all faiths. This is what we have also done during Ramadan and this is what we will do now,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated on Tuesday.

“We will do everything to safeguard freedom of worship on the Temple Mount while appropriately taking into account security and safety needs, and will enable the Muslim public to mark the holiday,” he added.

Last July, the Mexican consulate in Washington and the Guatemalan consulate in Maryland warned citizens living in the District about rising violent crime in the U.S. capital.

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