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PA lowers volume on mosques near settlements

Aug. 9, 2010 3:46 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 12, 2010 10:15 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The Palestinian Authority has reportedly agreed to an Israeli request to lower the volume on mosque loudspeakers in Palestinian villages surrounded by settlements.

The Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported Sunday that the PA has also agreed that Friday prayers will be held in one mosque per village, after several Israeli settlers complained to Israeli authorities over the volume of the call to prayer.

The Hebrew-language newspaper reported that the head of Israel's Civil Administration, Yoav Mordechai, contacted several PA officials to make the request and ultimately reached an agreement with the Ramallah-based government. A representative did not return a phone call from Ma'an seeking to confirm the report.

PA religious endowments (Awqaf) minister Mahmoud Al-Habbash confirmed some changes, such as holding Friday prayer in one mosque per village, however he said changes were made for religious reasons and not for the benefit of Israel's settlers.

"Our religious affairs are not subject to political bargaining," he told Ma'an radio on Monday.

"Israeli media fabricate such reports to serve political interests," he added. "They try to create a gap between the Palestinian political leadership and the Palestinian people by taking on such sensitive religious issues."

Hamas: PA against Islam

The awqaf minister also condemned Hamas, whose leadership quickly seized on the report and issued a strong rebuke to the PA. "Have Hamas and Israel formed a joint agenda dedicated to attacking the PA?" he said.

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the agreement proved that the "Abbas authority" was committed "not only to curbing the resistance, but has also expanded to fight the Islamic religion for the benefit of the occupation."

Abu Zuhri said the latest move came in the context of other "actions to fight the Islamic faith in general" including the dismissal of a large number of Hamas-affiliated imams, muezzins, and orators from their jobs.

Regardless of the pretext, however, Israel's settlers say they are happy with the agreement.

Settler leader Yitzhak Shedmi described the initiative as important and said his fellow West Bank settlers were already noticing the changes on the ground.
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