Israel blocks hundreds of Gazans' access to Al Aqsa Mosque for Ramadan

Hundreds of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip have had their permission to enter Jerusalem for Ramadan prayers at the Al Aqsa Mosque revoked by Israel following a rocket launch from the coastal enclave that landed in southern Israel last night, Israeli officials confirmed today.

Israeli rocket sirens were heard just north of the Gaza Strip following the launch but the weapon caused no injuries, landing in an open area near the Yad Mordechai Kibbutz in southern Israel.

The revoking of the special permits for the Palestinian worshippers was confirmed to Palestinian outlet Maan News, by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the head of the Israeli body which oversees the country's policies towards Gaza.

The Israeli official said that the Palestinians would not be allowed through the Erez crossing into Israel to pray because "the security conditions around the crossing aren't stable", saying that the rocket fell "not far" from the terminal.

The Erez crossing is the only official point of entry into Israel from the Gaza Strip. Mordechai went on to blame Hamas for any rocket attack as the territory falls under their control. "Hamas is responsible for depriving worshipers of prayer in Al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan," he said. "I am not saying that Hamas fired the missile, but Hamas is responsible because it controls the Gaza Strip."

A Palestinian journalist based in the Gaza Strip, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the decision to remove the Ramadan permits was not only to punish Palestinians but to also appease Israeli society after the rocket attack.

"I think it is a punishment to make the Palestinians regret such incidents even for those people who fire rockets and [it's] a justification to the Israeli side to show that they have responded," the journalist says. "It's mostly appeasing the Israeli community."

"They know and understand that it is not Hamas who is standing behind it, it's an internal conflict between Hamas and Salafi groups," the reporter adds. "It's not a good time for them to go for such an escalation."

Outside of Ramadan, approximately 200 Gazans are permitted a one day visit to Jerusalem to visit the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam, for prayers. This is limited to Palestinian males who are over 60-years-old and Palestinian females who are over 50-years-old. During Ramadan, the month-long holy Islamic holiday in which Muslims abstain from food and drink throughout the day, 500 to 600 Gazans are permitted to enter Jerusalem.

A number of rockets have been fired into Israel in recent weeks, with Israel retaliating with targeted air strikes on militant facilities. The rockets fired at Israel have been claimed by smaller Salafi groups within the Strip who are at loggerheads with the Hamas government who have controlled the territory since elections in 2007.

Israel had eased restrictions on Palestinians during Ramadan but after a number of incidents last week including one in which an Israeli policeman was stabbed in east Jerusalem, and an Israeli hiker killed in the West Bank, Israel also revoked the permission for 500 Palestinians from the West Bank to use Ben Gurion International airport in Tel Aviv.

Hamas official Taher Nouno declined to comment on Israel's revoking of the permits.