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Israelis Observe Yom Kippur Under Tight Security

  • Robert Berger

Israelis are observing the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur under tight security. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the holiday coincides with a major Muslim observance, raising tensions in the Holy Land.

Israelis gathered at synagogues around the country for the holiest day on the Jewish calendar: Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. It is a day of fasting in which the faithful ask God's forgiveness for their sins.

Security is tight. More than 2,000 Israeli police and soldiers deployed in Jerusalem's walled Old City, where Muslims gathered for prayers at the Mosque of al-Aksa, the site Jews call the Temple Mount.

Only Arabs with Israeli ID cards were allowed to attend the prayers marking the second Friday of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting. Fearing terrorist attacks, Israel barred Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip from entering the country.

Iyad, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem, told VOA that the restrictions violate freedom of worship.

"This kind of collective punishment, it's hurting the Palestinian people," he said.

Just below the mosque, Jews prayed at the Western Wall, the last remnant of the biblical Temple.

Israeli worshipper Rachel Kass was glad to see all the police and soldiers.

"Because our security services are on high alert, we can be pretty certain that we'll be safe," she said.

Israel virtually shuts down on Yom Kippur. Places of entertainment are closed, radio and TV broadcasts have gone off the air, and there is no traffic on the streets.