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Israel outlaws Islamic Movement's northern branch

Nov. 17, 2015 10:32 A.M. (Updated: Nov. 17, 2015 7:33 P.M.)
A Palestinian woman shows rubber bullets reportedly used by Israeli police outside the Dome of Rock at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City, on September 13, 2015. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli/File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israel's security cabinet on Monday outlawed the Islamic Movement's northern branch in Israel in what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said was a bid to end "dangerous incitement."

A statement from Netanyahu's office said the declaration would allow Israel to imprison anyone who acts on the movement's behalf and also to seize any property belonging to the organization.

Within hours, Israeli forces had detained at least one senior member of the movement and stormed offices of news organizations affiliated to it in the northern Israeli town of Umm Fahm.

The Islamic Movement's northern branch, led by Sheikh Raed Salah, has been a vocal critic of Israeli activity at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem -- the third holiest site in Islam.

Israeli forces repeatedly stormed the compound in September, while facilitating daily visits by right-wing Jews over a succession of Jewish holidays.

Palestinian fears that Israel was seeking to divide the holy site between Muslims and Jews helped to trigger mass demonstrations across the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel at the beginning of October.

Following Monday's announcement, a Palestinian member of Israel's Knesset, Talab Abu Arar, said that Israel had "declared war on the Arab community in Israel, and Israel had to bear the consequences."

He said that Netanyahu's decision to ban the northern branch -- which he said operates in accordance with law -- was a bid to distract from "his failure in all fields."

Abu Arar said that the "third intifada" had stemmed from Netanyahu's policy toward the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and his government's lack of transparency.

"The Islamic Movement will not stop defending the Al-Aqsa Mosque and won't remain silent towards what is going on there," he said.

Other Palestinians quickly condemned the decision to outlaw the northern branch. The Islamic Movement's less vocal southern branch called on the "Fascist Israeli government" to cancel its decision, while a Hamas spokesperson in Gaza described it as a "racist move" targeting Palestinians living in Israel.

Netanyahu's office said: "For years, the northern branch of the Islamic Movement has led a mendacious campaign of incitement under the heading 'Al-Aqsa is in danger' that falsely accuses Israel of intending to harm the Al Aqsa Mosque and violate the status-quo."

It said that the movement's activities -- particularly its support for volunteers who seek to "protect" Al-Aqsa, the Murabitun and Murabitat -- had led to "a significant increase in tension" at the holy site.

"A significant portion of recent terrorist attacks have been committed against the background of this incitement and propaganda," the statement said.

It accused the Islamic Movement's northern branch of being a "separatist-racist organization" that held "an extremist ideology" aimed at the destruction of Israel, and that also had strong ties to the Hamas movement.

It said the move was "not directed against the Arab and Muslim public in Israel, a great majority of which upholds the laws of the state and disavows incitement and terrorism."

Netanyahu added: "My government will continue to act as necessary against incitement and terrorism; at the same time, we will continue to invest resources for the betterment of Israel's Arab and Jewish citizens alike."

Just hours after the declaration, Israeli forces detained Yousef Awawda, the northern branch's head of external relations, and issued a police summons to Kamal al-Khatib, the branch's deputy head.

Israeli forces also stormed the offices of three news organiztions affiliated to the Islamic Movement's northern branch -- Q-Press, Sawt al-Haq newspaper, and Filasteenyo 48 -- all in the Israeli city of Umm Fahm.

Israeli forces reportedly seized computers belonging to the organizations.

Israel previously banned the Murabitun and Murabitat from visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, and the northern branch's head, Sheikh Salah, was imprisoned for eight months last year for inciting "all Muslims and Arabs" in 2007 to "start an intifada" over Al-Aqsa.
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