TEL AVIV: Israel deployed significant security reinforcements on Friday in the occupied West Bank including Arab East Jerusalem for demonstrations commemorating the deaths in 1976 of Arab Israelis on “Land Day.”
“Thousands of police reinforcements have been deployed in Jerusalem including in the Old City to prevent disorder,” a police spokeswoman said.
The measures were introduced “following information that groups of Palestinians were ready to engage in violent demonstrations” during the Land Day commemorations.
Land Day is held every year to mark the deaths of six Arab Israeli protesters at the hands of Israeli police and troops during mass demonstrations in 1976 against plans to confiscate Arab land in Galilee.
On Friday morning, access to the Al Aqsa mosque compound was limited to Palestinians over the age of 50 and holders of occupied Jerusalem residency cards issued by Israel. There were no restrictions placed on women, however.
The police spokeswoman said that security had also been strengthened at the main checkpoints between annexed Arab East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank.
An officer told army radio that the military also deployed reinforcements to the West Bank.
“Very often the mere presence of these forces acts as a deterrent and, in case of violent demonstrations, the security forces who have taken up positions in the field have an advantage over troublemakers,” he
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims marched along the narrow alleys of occupied Jerusalem’s Old City on the path that tradition holds Jesus carried the cross on the way to his crucifixion.
The pilgrims were marking Good Friday by walking from the Monastery of the Flagellation along the route now known as the Via Dolorosa or Way of Suffering to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Filipinos, Indians, Spaniards and Sri Lankans were among those who took part in the procession through the Stations of the Cross under the watch of thousands of Israeli police.
Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches celebrate Easter this weekend but for the Orthodox Churches Easter Sunday falls on May 5.
Israeli security forces have been deployed to protect the pilgrims as Palestinian demonstrators emerge from the main weekly Muslim prayers ahead of “Land Day” commemorations, an Israeli police spokeswoman said.
Many Jews were also present in the Holy City for the Passover, or Pesach, when they commemorate the Exodus of the biblical Israelites from captivity in Egypt.