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Israeli settlers tour Al-Aqsa Mosque, workers banned from entering

Aug. 10, 2016 3:23 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 10, 2016 7:13 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli settlers, escorted by Israeli forces, toured the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Wednesday morning, as Israeli police also banned maintenance workers from entering the area.

Firas al-Dibs, spokesperson for the Islamic Endowment (Waqf), the religious trust responsible for managing the Al-Aqsa compound, told Ma’an that at least 101 Israeli settlers and 13 Israelis working for the Israel Antiquities Authority entered the compound from the Moroccan Gate in separate groups and toured the area while attempting to carry out religious rituals, a common practice by right-wing Israelis in order to provoke Muslim worshipers and the Palestinian guards at Al-Aqsa.

Israeli settlers reportedly told Al-Aqsa guards that “your stay here is temporary. This place belongs to us,” according to al-Dibs.

Al-Dibs added that Israeli forces shut down maintenance work at the compound, claiming that the workers lacked permits to carry out construction. However, three Israeli workers were seen carrying construction equipment into the compound for an unknown reason.

He also told Ma'an that the frequent incursions by Israeli settlers into the compound to perform religious rituals in violation of a longstanding international agreement prohibiting non-Muslim worship at the site, and the regular banning of Waqf maintenance workers were “unjustified” and would result in negative consequences.

Israeli authorities have launched a crackdown on Waqf employees over the last several weeks, with Israeli forces repeatedly assaulting Palestinian security guards on the site, as well as hindering the ongoing repair works.

Israeli forces have justified the repeated detentions saying that the Waqf employees were suspected of carrying out repairs at the Al-Aqsa compound without official Israeli permission, or accusing security guards of harassing Jewish visitors to the compound -- claims which eyewitnesses vehemently denied.

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.

Israeli authorities have repeatedly escalated tensions inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in recent months by allowing hundreds of Israeli extremist settlers to tour the compound under armed protection and practice religious Jewish rituals, thus provoking clashes between Muslim worshipers and Israeli forces.

Earlier this month, Minister of the Jordanian Waqf and Islamic Affairs Wael Arabiyat demanded Israeli authorities put an end to their escalated procedures against its employees in the Al-Aqsa compound. Jordan, which runs the Waqf organization administering the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, has custodianship rights over Muslim holy places in Jerusalem under its 1994 peace treaty with Israel.

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, 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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