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Israeli forces have cracked down on 21 Al-Aqsa employees in past 10 days, Waqf says

Aug. 8, 2016 10:33 A.M. (Updated: Aug. 8, 2016 4:06 P.M.)
(AFP, File)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces have detained, summoned and banned 21 Palestinian employees of the Islamic Endowment (Waqf), which manages the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City, in the past 10 days, a Waqf spokesperson said on Monday.

Firas al-Dibs, the head of Waqf public relations, said that Israel had banned 10 Waqf employees from the Al-Aqsa compound for periods of time ranging from five days to six months.

Al-Dibs himself was briefly detained before being banned from accessing the religious site for six months.

At least 11 other Waqf employees have been detained or summoned by Israeli forces.

Al-Dibs said that the recent crackdown on Waqf employees was part of a broader Israeli policy to “terrorize” Palestinians, adding that the Waqf “remained steadfast” in its role to defend the mosque.

The spokesman added that Israeli forces had “crossed a red line” by detaining Bassam al-Hallaq, the head of the Waqf rehabilitation committee, on Thursday. Al-Hallaq was detained by Israeli forces at least twice in the span of several days before being banned from going to Al-Aqsa for five days.

Israeli authorities have launched a crackdown on Waqf employees over the last weeks, with Israeli forces repeatedly assaulting Palestinian security guards on the site, as well as hindering the ongoing repair works at the holy site.

Israeli forces have justified the repeated detentions saying that the Waqf employees were suspected of carrying out repairs at the Al-Aqsa compound without official Israeli permission, or accusing security guards of harassing Jewish visitors to the compound -- claims which eyewitnesses vehemently denied.

The third holiest site in Islam, Al-Aqsa is also venerated as Judaism’s most holy place, as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood.

Israeli authorities have repeatedly escalated tensions inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in recent months, particularly during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, by allowing hundreds of Israeli extremist settlers to tour the compound under armed protection and practice religious Jewish rituals, thus provoking clashes between Muslim worshipers and Israeli forces.

Earlier this month, Minister of the Jordanian Waqf and Islamic Affairs Wael Arabiyat demanded Israeli authorities put an end to their escalated procedures against its employees in the Al-Aqsa compound. Jordan, which runs the Waqf organization administering the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, has custodianship rights over Muslim holy places in Jerusalem under its 1994 peace treaty with Israel.

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 armed guard. 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 bans on entrance and detentions.
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