Yom Kippur, a children's bike festival on Israel's deserted roads

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, is a time when many non-regular Israeli synagogue-goers take time to pray. It is also an annual opportunity for children to ride their bicycles on deserted streets (pictured here).

Almost all Israeli road traffic stops on Yom Kippur as most of the country’s Jewish majority refrains from driving. Roads and main highways are deserted and left clear for children to enjoy without much fear of encountering a motor vehicle.

On Wednesday, scores of children went out to ride their bicycles, scooters and skateboards on a main road that separates the Israeli urban settlement of Pisgat Zeev from the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Hanina, both in East Jerusalem.

Israeli children rode freely on the main road that leads into the heart of Jerusalem, where there were similar scenes on the deserted highways west of the Old City.

A few Palestinian children also took advantage of the open roads to have fun. In their own area, traffic ran freely and streets were bustling.

The decades-old traditional driving ban is not dictated by law but is maintained out of deference for the holy day. Israeli Jews refrain from driving during the 25-hour holy period which this year began at dusk on Tuesday and ends after dark on Wednesday.

The days leading up to Yom Kippur are the busiest of the year for Israeli bicycle sellers and repairers, as children prepare for their big day of fun out in the fresh air when the weather is still warm.

Alongside the cyclists, scooters and pedestrians the occasional police car and ambulance could be seen driving slowly along highways, usually flashing their blue or red beacons to give warning of their approach.

Rescue services report several hundred cases of cyclists sustaining injuries during the day, but few of the casualties are considered serious.

Reporting by Ammar Awad and Stephen Farrell, Writing by Ori Lewis, Editing by William Maclean