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Abbas condemns Israel over Aqsa, Jewish groups tour holy site

Sept. 23, 2015 3:22 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 24, 2015 12:46 P.M.)
Palestinians clash with Israeli security forces blocking a road leading to Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem's Old City on Sept. 13, 2015. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli, File)#
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday condemned Israeli restrictions on Palestinian access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound during a speech in Moscow, as right-wing Jews toured the holy site to celebrate a Jewish holiday.

Abbas made his comments during a reopening ceremony of Moscow's central mosque, which he attended alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

He said that the Al-Aqsa Mosque was an Islamic right and that every Muslim in the world has the right to pray there.

Abbas added that Palestinian leadership refused any procedure or decision by Israel that would prevent Muslims from reaching the site, which is the third holiest in Islam.

The president called on the international community to provide protection for all Muslim and Christian holy sites across the occupied Palestinian territory.

Meanwhile, Israeli restrictions to the mosque compound continued Wednesday, as right-wing Jewish groups toured the site under heavy police escort to observe the Jewish Yom Kippur holiday.

Israeli police imposed tight security restrictions across occupied East Jerusalem over the Jewish holiday, with checkpoints out of the West Bank sealed, and barricades and checkpoints throughout Jerusalem's Old City.

Official Palestinian news site Wafa reported that groups of right-wing Jews attempted to perform religious rituals inside the mosque compound, although they were prevented by the Al-Aqsa's Palestinian guards.

Non-Muslim prayer is not allowed inside the compound, according to a 1967 agreement between Israel and the Islamic trust that controls holy site.

Israeli police also closed all gates to the mosque for Muslims, except for the Hatta, Chain and Council Gates, reportedly preventing all Palestinians under the age of 40 from entering the compound.

Wednesday marked the Day of Arafah for Muslims, a religious holiday that precedes Eid al-Adha, and many Palestinians performed dawn prayers in the streets surrounding the mosque compound.

'Tolerance, coexistence'

Abbas on Wednesday also spoke of Palestinian aspirations for freedom, unity and an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

He said that the reopening of Moscow's central mosque signified a clear message to the world of tolerance, coexistence and mutual respect for religions.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan joined Abbas in condemning Israeli violations at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a call in support of traditional Islamic values as opposed to extremist ideas that he said were spreading in Russia.

The president said that Islam is one of Russia's traditional religions.

Moscow's central mosque was being reopened after a decade of construction work on the site.

With a capacity of 10,000 people, it now stands as one of the largest mosques in Russia, according to Russian media.

The mosque was built on the same site as the city's former central mosque. Reconstruction began in 2005, while the old mosque was entirely demolished in 2011.

The original mosque, which was built in 1904, was the only functioning Muslim place of worship during most of the Soviet era. It reportedly remains one of only four mosques in the Russian capital.

Russian media reported that construction of the mosque cost around $170 million, and was funded entirely by private donations from around the world, including from Mahmoud Abbas, who reportedly gave $25,000.

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