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Israeli police detain 4 Al-Aqsa employees as Israelis tour compound

Aug. 3, 2016 12:16 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 3, 2016 6:27 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli police officers detained on Wednesday morning four employees of the rehabilitation committee of the Islamic Endowment (Waqf), which manages the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City, as groups of right-wing Israelis toured the site.

The detainees were identified to Ma’an by Waqf officials as the director of the rehabilitation committee Bassam al-Hallaq, as well as Issa Salhab, Saed Abu Sneina, and Bahaa Sbeih. They were taken to an Israeli police station outside the compound’s Chain Gate.

Witnesses told Ma’an that Israeli police officers stormed the compound and obstructed employees doing maintenance work on the Dome of the Rock’s arabesque reliefs, and detained the four workers without providing an explanation.

Separately, groups of right-wing Israelis toured the compound Wednesday morning after entering via the Moroccan Gate, which is designated by Israeli police for entry of "non-Muslim" visitors and connects to the neighboring Western Wall.

Witnesses said two Jewish Israelis prostrated on the ground in prayer, in violation of regulations regarding non-Muslim worship at the site, based on an agreement signed between Israel and the Jordanian government after Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.

Witnesses said Israeli police officers watched as they performed the ritual.

An Israeli police spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment on the two incidents.

Israeli authorities have launched a crackdown on Waqf employees over the last week, detaining some, banning others from entering the compound, while hindering the ongoing repair works at the holy site.

On Tuesday, Israeli police reportedly assaulted one of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound guards and obstructed repair works for a water pipe.

Israeli authorities have recently banned seven Waqf employees from Al-Aqsa, including spokesperson Firas al-Dibs and a number of security guards. Several security guards have also been summoned by Israeli police for questioning.

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

While Jewish visitation is permitted to the compound, non-Muslim worship is prohibited according to an agreement signed between Israel and the Jordanian government after Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.

Despite this agreement, the Israeli authorities regularly allow Jewish visitors to enter the site -- often under armed guard. Such visits are typically made by right-wingers attempting to unsettle the status quo at the site, and coincide with restrictions on Palestinian access, including bans on entrance and detentions.

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