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Barak orders closure of Al-Aqsa Foundation after group accuses Israel of destroying holy sites

Aug. 24, 2008 10:33 A.M. (Updated: Aug. 24, 2008 10:33 A.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - Israeli police and Shin Bet (General Security) officers stormed the Al-Aqsa Foundation for the Reconstruction of Islamic Holy Places office in Umm el Fahm on Saturday night.

The order to close the Foundation was issued by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, on what was claimed to be "information received on ties between institution and Hamas headquarters in Jerusalem."

The office of the Foundation, in Israel was raided on Saturday night and ransacked; the safe was removed as well as cash, and documents.

On Friday the Foundation issued a statement accusing extremist Israeli settlers in Jerusalem of defiling more than 20 ancient tombstones in the Ma'man Allah cemetery just outside the Old City of Jerusalem on Thursday.

The cemetery, according to the Foundation, is the oldest and largest cemetery in the region. According to studies a number of the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, scholars and imams from the seventh century AD are buried at the site.

The Foundation threatened to prosecute those responsible for the vandalism, saying that they held Israel fully responsible for the damage to the ancient site.

The statement also said Israel prevented the Al-Aqsa Foundation from fixing the disturbed graves.

Later Friday the Foundation's leader, Sheikh Raed Salah delivered a speech denouncing what he called the "Israeli policy of destroying Islamic Jerusalem."

On Sunday several of the Foundation's bank accounts were frozen.

Israeli media has reported that the material taken from the offices will be handed over to the Shin Bet, which will determine whether or not an investigation will be launched.

The investigation is said to be focusing on the financial statements of the Foundation, which is being accused of giving funds to Hamas through joint activities held between the two organizations.

Zahi Nujidat, a spokesman for the Islamic Movement's northern branch, was quoted as saying that the Israeli raid of the institution was because it had "no answer" to the accusations of the Foundation that Israel had caused immeasurable damage "to the holy sites in general and to the al-Aqsa Mosque in particular."

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