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Sheikh: Israel tightening grip on Al-Aqsa Mosque

March 25, 2013 7:21 P.M. (Updated: March 31, 2013 4:05 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- The director of Al-Aqsa Mosque on Monday warned that Israel is tightening restrictions on the Muslim holy site in Jerusalem.

Sheikh Najih Bkeirat told Ma'an that Israeli forces seized the keys to the Moroccan Gate to allow extremist Jewish settlers access the compound.

Israel has imposed strict restrictions on the entry of worshipers to the mosque and delivered military orders banning several citizens, clerics and dignitaries from Al-Aqsa, Bkeirat said.

Bkeirat was banned from Al-Aqsa Mosque in October.

"Thirty-five days after I was appointed director of al-Aqsa Mosque, I was banned from the mosque despite the fact that the appointment was made by a Jordanian ministry. (The Israelis) failed to prevent the decision so they denied me access to the mosque."

Israeli authorities claimed Bkeirat's presence posed a threat to Israeli security and said secret reports proved he impeded the work of Israeli police in the compound, the sheikh said.

The ban was renewed for six months on March 3.

"I received a six-month ban from March 3 to Sept. 3 saying that I must be at least 20 meters away from Al-Aqsa Mosque. A map was attached showing the borders I am not allowed to access," the sheikh said.

"Their message is that if we can ban the director, we can ban any other employee or activist," Bkeirat said, noting that 300 people work in al-Aqsa Mosque.

Since the Israelis do not enjoy full control of the mosque, added Bkeirat, they want to deprive it from a "strong administration which will implement Arab and Islamic policies."

Since 2004, 217 Palestinians have been deported from Al-Aqsa Mosque, according to Bkeirat. He highlighted that 65 students and teachers were deported in one day and 35 others were deported on another day.

Sheikh Bkeirat has been working for the Palestinian ministry of endowment since 1977.

He has been banned from Al-Aqsa Mosque seven times since 2003, for various lengths of time. Between 2000 and 2004 he was not allowed to travel abroad and Israel prohibited him from speaking to the media throughout 2012, Bkeirat says.

The sheikh says he will challenge the latest ban.

"I will challenge the Israeli decision, and bear the consequences as I can’t see Al-Aqsa Mosque and stand hand-cuffed."

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