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Israeli police briefly detain Aqsa sheikh for incitement

April 8, 2016 5:16 P.M. (Updated: April 8, 2016 7:37 P.M.)
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JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli police on Friday detained and later released a leading sheikh at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem for alleged "incitement" after he addressed some 70,000 worshippers at the holy site.

Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib, head of the Jerusalem endowment, told Ma'an that Sheikh Muhammad Salim was detained as he exited the mosque compound through the Hatta Gate for alleged "incitement."

The sheikh was taken in for interrogation and officials began making calls for his release, al-Khatib said, adding that he was released around three hours later.

Israeli police spokesperson Luba al-Samri confirmed in a statement that police officers had detained the cleric for giving "a sermon that riled up feelings of incitement and agitation."

She added that after his sermon, Palestinians chanted "Allah Akbar" (God is Great), a prayer commonly heard at Muslim places of worship.

The Israeli authorities have detained religious leaders at the flashpoint site in the past over allegations of incitement, and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Muhammad Hussein earlier this month was accused in Israeli media of incitement after referring to recent “executions” of Palestinians by Israeli forces.

Tensions surrounding the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound were heightened last summer and served as one of the key triggers for a wave of violence that swept the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel in October.

Large numbers of right-wing Israelis toured the compound during a succession of Jewish holidays last September, leading many Palestinians to fear that Israel would renege on a longstanding agreement preventing non-Muslim prayer in the compound, although Israel denied this was the case.

While Jewish prayer in the mosque compound is forbidden according to mainstream Jewish law, extreme groups calling for the Al-Aqsa Mosque to be replaced by a Third Temple frequently tour the site under armed police escort.

Visits by these right-wing groups are viewed as provocative by many Palestinians as the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock are symbols of East Jerusalem, the desired capital for a future Palestinian state, which has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967.

In September, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon outlawed the Murabitat and Murabitun -- Muslim groups who gather in the compound to demonstrate against what they see as increasing Israeli control over the holy site and and restrictions on Palestinian access.

Jordanian officials who play a role governing the mosque compound announced last week that preparations had begun to install surveillance cameras across the site to document alleged Israeli violations.

Both the Palestinian and Israeli leaderships have repeatedly accused the other of incitement over the past six months of violence.

However, some commentators have said that the Palestinian Authority has been largely absent during the unrest, with President Mahmoud Abbas only condemning the wave of stabbing attacks for the first time last week.

Meanwhile critics have slammed the Israeli leadership for using incitement against Palestinians for political gain, rather than taking action against increasing racism.

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