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Israeli forces detain 2 Palestinians, 1 Israeli amid ongoing unrest at Al-Aqsa

July 19, 2017 2:39 P.M. (Updated: July 19, 2017 10:05 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- After a night of unrest at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, fresh clashes broke out Wednesday between Israeli forces and Muslim worshipers protesting new metal detectors installed at the compound, as the site was closed to non-Muslim visitors after a group of right-wing Israelis attempted to pray in the compound.

Some 70 people were injured, three seriously, during Isha prayers Tuesday night, including journalists, medics, and Sheikh Akrama Sabri, head of High Islamic Committee, who underwent surgery after being shot by Israeli police with a rubber-coated steel bullet and beaten with batons.

Clashes broke out anew midday Wednesday following Dhuhr prayers, with Israeli forces firing tear gas canisters and stun grenades at worshipers at the Lions’ Gate entrance to Al-Aqsa, where protests have been ongoing since the metal detectors were installed Sunday in response to a deadly shoot-out at the compound two days prior.

Protesters chanted patriotic and religious slogans, shouting, "The sovereignty over (Al-Aqsa) is ours as god's will! We are here at your service (Al-Aqsa)!"

Israeli forces detained two Palestinians amid the clashes, local sources said.

Meanwhile, as Muslim worshipers have refused to pass through the metal detectors, seen as a violation of their right to freedom of worship, foreigners and Israelis have been allowed to tour the sight freely, amid the lack of presence of officials from the Waqf, the Islamic endowment that controls the holy site.

Israeli police spokesperson Luba al-Samri said that at least one Israeli was detained after a group of Jewish Israelis “disturbed the public order” at the compound, leading Israel’s chief of police in Jerusalem to briefly suspend non-Muslim visitation. She added that the gates of Al-Aqsa Mosque were open for Muslim worshipers as usual.

Israeli news daily Haaretz reported that the right-wing Jewish Israelis were expelled from the compound for bringing sacred books and trying to pray.

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.

Palestinian leadership denounce Israeli violations

The Israeli government has continued to be the target of condemnation for the escalation at Al-Aqsa, after the Fatah movement declared Wednesday a “Day of Rage,” and Palestinian religious and military leadership also called for further confrontations with Israeli forces in protest of the escalation.

In a statement Wednesday, Palestinian Minister of Religious Affairs Mahmoud al-Habash described the Israeli procedures as a violation of international law and an act of aggression against Muslims and their holy sites, warning that if tensions were not deescalated, the conflict threatened to turn into a “religious war.”

He called upon the international community to act “before it is too late,” in order to prevent a deterioration in the security situation that could affect stability in the entire region due to Israel’s “racist” actions at Al-Aqsa.

The minister called upon Palestinians and Muslims to increase visitation to Al-Aqsa to affirm its religious identity in the face of Israeli intervention.

Al-Habash said Palestinian leadership was making efforts to support the determination of the Palestinian people in coordination with leaders of the Muslim and Arab world.

In a statement Tuesday, PLO Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi said the metal detectors and new security cameras at the mosque were only the latest example of “Israel’s unbridled violations” that “constitutes a flagrant violation of the rights and freedoms of Palestinian Muslim worshipers.”

“Such intrusive and dehumanizing practices aim to provide Israel with carte blanche to exercise security control over the holy sites of Jerusalem… Undoubtedly, Israel is deliberately creating and escalating a situation of instability, insecurity and violence; with its recent escalations, the Israeli occupation is not only provoking the Palestinians, but the entire Muslim world and the international legal system,” she wrote.

She highlighted a recent Israeli bill that aims to amend Israeli basic law to “prohibit the division of Jerusalem city,” in any future Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. “If passed, this law would destroy the two-state solution by creating an illegal Israeli and Jewish exclusivity over all of Jerusalem,” she said.

“Such proposed legislation builds upon a long series of racist laws, proposals, and practices that reflect Israel’s intent to wipe out the Palestinian presence in Jerusalem, destroy the territorial contiguity and demographic presence of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), and to impose a de facto one-state solution."

The Egyptian foreign ministry also released a statement Wednesday, calling on Israel to “stop the violence and respect Palestinians’ right to perform religious rituals freely and safely,” and to not take any further measures that could escalate the conflict.
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