UNITED NATIONS – UN chief Ban Ki-moon has urged Israel to ease restrictions on travel for Palestinians between the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank for Ramadan prayers.
Israel has eased restrictions on Palestinians seeking to enter Jerusalem for Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third-holiest site, for Ramadan.
But the Jewish state announced earlier on Wednesday that it was revoking permits for 500 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to enter Jerusalem for prayers during the holy Muslim month because of rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave.
Ban "welcomes Israel's measures to ease some restrictions on Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza," Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman told the Security Council.
"He encourages Israel to sustain and expand these confidence-building measures which enable the legitimate movement of people and goods in and between Gaza and the West Bank including East-Jerusalem, and improve the quality of life of Palestinians."
Gaza, ruled by the Islamist movement Hamas and ravaged by three wars in the past six years, is under a blockade, with Israel maintaining strict control over the entry and exit of goods and people.
The latest cancellations of travel permits only applied to this week, Israel said, meaning it should resume next week allowing up to 800 Gazans to travel for Friday prayers to Al-Aqsa, the third holiest site in Islam.
Pro-Palestinian activists aboard a flotilla of boats plan to reach the shores of the Gaza Strip by the end of the month, in their latest bid to break Israel's blockade of the tiny coastal enclave.
But Feltman said the UN secretary-general "continues to believe that a flotilla will not help to address the dire situation in Gaza."
A similar attempt five years ago ended in bloodshed, after Israeli commandos staged a botched pre-dawn raid on a flotilla, killing 10 Turkish activists and triggering a diplomatic crisis with Ankara. -- AFP