Israel moves Jewish festival over Hezbollah threat

Celebrations marking a Jewish holiday this weekend have been moved after its traditional location near Lebanon was closed due to the threat of Hezbollah rocket fire, Israeli police said.

Every year, tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews celebrate the holiday of Lag Baomer by visiting the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai on Mount Meron, in northern Israel.

Preparations for this year's festivities, which come 33 days after Passover, have been completed in Sheikh Jarrah, a tense neighborhoods of annexed east Jerusalem, an Israeli police spokesperson said.

Near-daily cross-border exchanges between Hezbollah and Israel have erupted in the months since the Lebanese, Iran-backed group launched hostilities on October 8, a day after the war in Gaza began following Hamas' unprecedented attack on Israel.

The Israeli army reported on several occasions that Hezbollah rocket fire had targeted the city of Meron, which hosts a military base on the flank of the namesake mountain.

Israel's army has declared Mount Meron a "closed military zone" until Monday, May 27.

Sheikh Jarrah, a contested east Jerusalem neighborhood occupied by Israel since 1967 along with the rest of the West Bank, has experienced tensions in recent years due to attempts to evict Palestinian families and replace them with Jewish families.

The police spokesperson told AFP the force "will deploy thousands of officers and border guards in the city of Jerusalem to maintain security and public order."

He added that "the prayers directed to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai will take place in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood on Shimon Hatzadik Street, a place sacred to religious Jews, and at a sacred site for Jews in Beit Shemesh."

The Sheikh Jarrah lot where festivities installations were erected is private Palestinian land whose owner did not respond to AFP by the time of publication.

It sits just a stone's throw away from the tomb of Shimon Hatzadik, a venerated high priest who lived in Jerusalem about 2,300 years ago whose resting place religious Jews visit.

In 2021, 45 people were killed in a stampede on Mount Meron during the annual pilgrimage for Lag Baomer.

An Israeli investigation committee concluded in 2024 that Benjamin Netanyahu bore "personal responsibility" for the deadly stampede.

Source: Agence France Presse

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