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70 right-wing Israelis tour Aqsa compound, Palestinians denied entry

Feb. 3, 2016 12:27 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 4, 2016 11:45 A.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Dozens of right-wing Israelis toured the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Wednesday under Israeli police escort, while a number of Palestinian men and women were denied entry to the holy site.

Witnesses said that as many as 70 Israelis entered the compound through the Dung Gate, accompanied by nearly 20 Israeli Border Police and two Israeli intelligence officers.

Israeli police meanwhile prevented a number Palestinian women and men from entering the compound, saying that they were members of the blacklisted Murabitat and Murabitun -- Muslim groups that protest what they see as an increasing Jewish presence at the holy site.

Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib told Ma'an that Israeli police were "escalating" actions against the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound as well as the Ministry of Endowments.

He said that Israeli police actions were "unacceptable" and were intended to delay restoration work inside the compound.

Tensions have flared at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in recent months, and many Palestinians fear that Israel is seeking to renege on a longstanding agreement preventing non-Muslim prayer in the compound, although Israel has denied that this is the case.

Large numbers of Jewish worshipers toured the compound during a succession of Jewish holidays in September, and these tours, accompanied by restrictions on Palestinian worshipers, played a major role in triggering a wave of Palestinian protests in October.

The third holiest site in Islam, the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is also venerated as Judaism's most holy place as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood.

Jewish prayer is allowed at the neighboring Western Wall, which is the last remnant of the Second Temple.

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