By Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem
DAILY TELEGRAPH 12 Mar 2010
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak has ordered the army to seal off the West Bank for 48 hours Photo: AP
Defence Minister Ehud Barak ordered the army to cut off the area until midnight on Saturday, citing a heightened risk of attacks.
Israel has sealed off the West Bank ahead of major holidays in the past, but only rarely on other occasions.
Security sources said the closure was decided after Israel discovered plans to repeat last Friday's riots in Jerusalem in which more than 60 Palestinian youths and 15 Israeli police were injured.
The closure was announced the day after US vice-president Joe Biden concluded a visit to the region aimed at promoting renewed peace talks.
Hopes of negotiations collapsed when Israel announced 1,600 new settler homes would be built in predominantly-Arab east Jerusalem.
Israel also limited access to Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Only worshippers with Israeli identity cards and aged over 50 were permitted.
Prayers passed off peacefully at the mosque itself, but youths denied entry threw stones at Israeli police in Sultan Suleiman Street, Wadi Joz and Ras-Al-Amud on the Mount of Olives. Hundreds of Palestinians hurled rocks at Israeli soldiers near Ramallah.
Inside the Old City and throughout East Jerusalem, 3,000 Israeli police and paramilitary border police patrolled the narrow lanes, took up positions on rooftops and checked ID cards at temporary checkpoints.
Police Commissioner Dudi Cohen said he would try "to preserve the channel of dialogue with the various bodies so that quiet can be maintained on the site so that everyone can exercise their right to worship as they see fit."
Until Saturday night, only teachers, humanitarian and religious workers or Palestinians needing medical care will be allowed through checkpoints from the West Bank to Israel.
"The IDF will continue to operate in order to protect the citizens of Israel while maintaining the quality of life of the Palestinian population in the area," said an Israeli army spokesman.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of trying "to ignite a religious war in the region."
More trouble is expected next week with a planned march by right-wing Israelis through the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem.