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Dozens of right-wing Israelis tour Al-Aqsa Mosque compound under armed protection

Feb. 20, 2017 5:04 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 20, 2017 7:32 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Dozens of extreme right-wing Israelis, yeshiva students, and a right-wing former Israeli politician entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem under heavy Israeli police protection on Monday, as Israeli police detained three Palestinians and summoned several others for questioning in a nearby neighborhood.

Firas al-Dibs, the spokesperson for the Islamic Waqf -- the religious trust responsible for managing the Al-Aqsa compound -- told Ma’an that former deputy speaker of the Knesset Moshe Feiglin toured the compound along with “20 extremist settlers and 53 Jewish students.”

According to al-Dibs, they arrived in groups via the Moroccans' Gate, and left via the Chain Gate.

Separately, Israeli forces on Monday detained Sheikh Najih Bkeirat, the director of Islamic education at the Waqf, as well as two Palestinian women from a bus in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

The head of the Jerusalem Committee for Families of Prisoners, Amjad Abu Asab, told Ma'an that Israeli police stopped two tour buses traveling on a trip to Jaffa and detained Bkeirat and two women identified as Ikram Natsha and Raghad Natsha.

Police officers also gave summons to the drivers and a number of women demanding that they show up at Israeli intelligence offices for questioning.

All passengers were forced to leave the buses, which were banned from traveling until Wednesday.

Abu Asab highlighted that he and another young man were in the area when the Israeli police stopped the buses, and that Israeli officers checked their ID cards.

Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld told Ma’an that he was unaware of any detentions in Sheikh Jarrah. Rosenfeld added that “there was nothing out of the ordinary” that took place at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, saying: “I think it’s good that tourists are visiting there...that everything is running smoothly and normally.”

The compound, which sits just above the Western Wall plaza, houses both the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The third holiest site in Islam, it is also venerated as Judaism's most holy place, as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

While Jewish visitation is permitted to the compound, non-Muslim worship is prohibited according to an agreement signed between Israel and the Jordanian government after Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.

Despite this agreement, Israeli authorities regularly allow Jewish visitors to enter the site -- often under the protection of armed guards -- and to carry out prayers in violation of the international agreement. Such visits are typically made by right-wingers attempting to unsettle the status quo at the site, and coincide with restrictions on Palestinian access, including detentions and bans on entrance.

Meanwhile, the permitted visitation hours for non-Muslims are routinely used by right-wing Israelis to tour the Al-Aqsa compound, heightening tensions with Palestinian worshipers.

Restrictions on movement for Palestinians are typically implemented by Israeli authorities for alleged security purposes, particularly during Jewish holidays, while tensions around Al-Aqsa Mosque were a main contributor to increasing unrest that began in October 2015, after right-wing Israelis made frequent visits to the site during the Jewish high holiday season.

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