(Communicated by IDF Spokesperson and COGAT Spokesman)
In anticipation of the upcoming Christmas Holiday, beginning December 24th, 2009, the IDF and Civil Administration are making a number of goodwill gestures to the Palestinian population in the Judea and Samaria region. The decision to carry out these improvements was made in accordance with the directives of the Minister of Defense, Mr. Ehud Barak, the IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, and in light of security assessments of the IDF Central Command and the Civil Administration.
The goodwill gestures include issuing an unlimited number of one month-long permits to Palestinian residents of the Judea and Samaria region, allowing them entry to Israel for religious and family gatherings. More than 10,000 permits, valid between December 20th and January 20th, have been issued up to now. In addition, 300 Christian-Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip over the age of 35 will be permitted entry into Judea and Samaria for 24 hours during the holiday. Another 300 Christian Palestinians will be permitted to cross to the Ben Gurion International Airport. These permits will be issued subject to a security clearance.
As part of the preparations for the holiday, the COGAT, Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, and Head of the Civil Administration, Brig. Gen. Yoav (Poly) Mordechai, held a meeting with patriarchs and heads of churches from Bethlehem and Jerusalem. In addition, officials from the Civil Administration's Bethlehem DCL and the Etzion Regional Brigade held meetings with their Palestinian counterparts. A decision was made that all Christmas ceremonies will take place according to the 'Status Quo Principle,' relating to the ceremonial tradition established in years past.
Throughout the holiday, tourists, senior religious officials, priests and pilgrims may enter Bethlehem by presenting their passports at the relevant crossings (Rachel, the Tunnel Road, Mezmoriah, Betar and Lamed-Hey). Additionally, Israeli journalists will be authorized to enter the cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah with their vehicles. Diplomats from various countries are also expected to visit throughout the holiday.
All crossings in the Bethlehem area will continue to operate on a 24-hour basis, with a reinforced presence of Civil Administration personnel who will ensure that all visitors can cross into the city unhindered.
Israeli security forces will continue to operate in order to ensure freedom of religion and a normal way of life for Palestinians uninvolved in terrorism. This is in accordance with security assessments and while continuing to combat terrorism.