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Al-Aqsa officials reject new Israeli security measures as compound reopens

July 16, 2017 1:31 P.M. (Updated: July 16, 2017 11:27 P.M.)
Palestinians pray at Al-Aqsa after passing through new metal detectors installed by Israeli authorities. (Israeli police spokesperson)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- As Israeli officials moved to "gradually reopen" the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem on Sunday after three days of closure, officials from the Islamic Endowment (Waqf) that runs the holy site expressed their rejection of new metal detectors installed at compound's entrances, though Waqf officials and worshipers eventually entered the compound for afternoon prayers.

The attempt to reopen the compound came upon an order from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after it had been closed following a deadly shooting attack inside the compound that left two Israeli border policemen killed and three Palestinian assailants shot dead on Friday.

After discussions with “top security leadership,” Netanyahu announced additional security measures at the holy site Saturday evening, including the installation of the metal detectors as well as additional security cameras outside the compound.

Meanwhile, Al-Aqsa and the entirety of the Old City has remained shuttered since Friday to Palestinians who don't reside in the area, while Israelis and tourists have been allowed to enter the Old City. The roads around the Old City were also reportedly closed to traffic, and traffic at the central bus station near the Damascus Gate was disrupted.

Waqf spokesperson Firas al-Dibs told Ma'an earlier on Sunday morning that Israeli authorities had contacted a group of Al-Aqsa mosque’s guards and ordered them not go to the mosque.

Netanyahu lauded the new security measures as giving Israel “almost complete control over what goes on there.”

Israeli police spokeswoman Luba al-Samri reported that just two of the compound's nine gates -- the Lions' Gate (Bab al-Asbat) and the Council Gate (Bab al-Majlis) -- were opened with metal detectors established at each one, and that Israeli forces were conducting security checks on all those who entered to pray.

She said other gates would gradually be opened upon instructions from the Israeli government. According to Israeli news daily Haaretz, Jewish visitors would not be permitted entry to the site on Sunday.

Before worshipers were allowed in, al-Samri said Waqf officials who arrived to the Lions' Gate expressed their opposition to the Israeli police commander, but Waqf representatives later complied and passed through the metal detectors.

At least 200 worshipers entered the compound to pray as of 1:15 p.m. amid the deployment of "extra police units" in the area "to prevent any incidents," she said.

Earlier on Sunday, Al-Aqsa Mosque director Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani voiced his disapproval of the measures while speaking to the Voice of Palestine radio station, saying “it is a dangerous and unprecedented move to impose control over Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

As of Sunday morning, Israeli authorities had continued to ban the ‘adhan,’ or Muslim call to prayer, in the mosque and prevented worshipers from entering the mosque, forcing them to perform dawn prayer in the street.

Worshipers who came to pray on Sunday from different areas of Jerusalem told Ma’an that they were forced to perform prayers at “the closest points to the mosque.”

Some of them were able to reach the gates of the Old City, others were able to reach nearby neighborhoods such as Wadi Joz, while residents of the Old City itself performed morning prayers outside of the gates of Al-Aqsa Mosque gates.

Story continues below.
(MaanImages)

(MaanImages)

(MaanImages)

Palestinians and Israeli police clashed outside of the compound on Saturday evening, as tensions remained high, given that the weekend’s closure was reportedly the first time the compound had been closed off to Muslims since 2014 and the first time since 1967 that Palestinians were restricted from attending Friday prayers.

Following the closure, Palestinian citizens and leaders expressed their outrage at the move, demanding that the closures be lifted, and warned Israel of taking steps that could “change the historic status quo in Jerusalem and the mosque."

Since Friday, Israeli forces have detained dozens of worshipers and Waqf employees, as well as the grand mufti of Jerusalem Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, who was released after hours of interrogation.

Amid extensive Israeli searches at Al-Aqsa over the past two days, Israeli forces entered all of the compound's mosques, offices, and other buildings. According to Haaretz, Israeli forces initially wanted to break down the doors to the buildings but in the end agreed to requests from the Waqf to have representatives unlock the buildings for them.

Haaretz quoted commander of Israel's Jerusalem district police Yoram Halevy as saying that police officers have been "careful to remove their shoes before entering the mosques," but witnesses told Ma'an on Friday that Israeli forces raided the mosque with shoes on, in violation of the Muslim tradition which mandates that shoes be taken off in places of worship.

Witnesses had also said that Israeli forces emptied out garbage containers in the compound under the claim that they were searching the containers, and Waqf employees told Ma’an that Israeli special forces had vandalized inside facilities at the holy compound by “smashing” doors and toilets.

Municipal workers had also entered the compound to conduct a thorough cleaning, despite the protests of the Waqf officials that this too was a violation of the status quo at the holy site, according to Haaretz.

The Israeli police commander also reportedly claimed that during the raids, “Dozens of knives, slingshots, batons, spikes, inciting material, unexploded ordnance, binoculars, and dummy plastic weapons" were uncovered at the site, but no firearms or ammunition were found.

Palestinian Authority spokesperson Yousif al-Mahmoud condemned Israeli authorities for violating the holiness of the mosque and dismissed the security procedures as "arbitrary and void."

Al-Mahmoud reiterated calls for "urgent intervention" from Muslim and Arab world leaders to put an end to the measures that "violate the identity and history of Jerusalem."

He highlighted in the statement that East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel in 1967 in a move never recognized by the international community, and that 137 states recognize a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Following Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has maintained a compromise with the Islamic trust that controls the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to not allow non-Muslim prayers in the area. However, non-Muslims are permitted to visit the site during designated times.

Palestinians have long feared that Israel has been attempting to shake up the status quo at the holy site, in the shape of routine Jewish incursions on the site and right-wing Israeli calls to demolish the mosque and replace it with a third Jewish temple.

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