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Israel Seals Palestinian Territories Before Yom Kippur - 2001-09-26

In Israel, businesses and offices closed Wednesday afternoon in preparation for the most sacred Jewish holy day of the year, Yom Kippur. Israel has also sealed its borders and completely closed off the Palestinian territories.

The West Bank and Gaza Strip have been virtually shut down for the past year, ever since the Palestinian intifada began. But as Israel's Jews prepared to mark Yom Kippur, the closure was tightened even further. As of midday Wednesday, basically no one was able to move into or out of the Palestinian areas except for humanitarian purposes.

Israel has routinely closed off these areas for major Jewish holy days, but the past year of unrest has brought about a heightened state of alert. Police have been called out to secure synagogues and public places and guard against any possible attacks.

Yom Kippur is the most sacred holy day of the Jewish calendar and hundreds of thousands of Israelis fast from sundown Wednesday to sundown Thursday, and even many secular Jews attend religious services.

Israel has sealed off its external borders, including ports and the international airport. Israeli radio and television stations generally do not broadcast, restaurants and shops shut down, and drivers stay off the roads.

This year's closure comes on the heels of a meeting at Gaza airport between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, during which the two sides agreed on a series of confidence building measures in an effort to defuse the yearlong crisis. The two sides have agreed to resume security cooperation and Israel is to begin, after Yom Kippur, lifting its closure of Palestinian territories and redeploy its forces.

But for now Israel is at a stand-still.

By Friday, things should be back to what has become normal in Israel. Police will be on high alert for possible unrest as Palestinians mark the first anniversary of their intifada. It will be the initial test of whether this Israeli-Palestinian truce is going to hold.