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Dozens of right-wing Israelis make extended tour of Al-Aqsa Mosque compound

Dec. 12, 2016 3:59 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 12, 2016 4:14 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma’an) -- Dozens of extreme right-wing Israelis entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound under the protection of Israeli police forces on Monday, and stayed 45 minutes longer than the usual time permitted for right-wing Israelis during tours of the holy site, according to the Islamic Endowment, or Waqf, in charge of managing the compound.

Rami al-Khatib of the media and public relations department of the Waqf, told Ma’an that Israeli forces opened the Moroccan Gate to the compound at 7:15 a.m. and closed it at 10:30 a.m., adding 45 minutes to the normal period of time when forces usually permit Israelis to tour the compound.

Al-Khatib noted that Israeli forces typically open the Moroccan Gate to Israelis from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

He added that during the three hour and 15 minute time period on Monday, 26 Israeli “settlers” and 56 Jewish religious students “raided” the compound.

An Israeli police spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Israeli police notified Waqf a week ago of intentions to extend the period of time dedicated to Jewish and non-Muslim visitation. At the time of the decision, Israeli police told the Waqf that the visitation time would be extended by one hour, and span from 7:30 to 11 a.m.

Al-Khatib went on to condemn the decision, and said that Waqf “holds Israel responsible for all consequences of settlers’ provocative raids.”

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 the protection of armed guards -- and to carry out prayers at the holy site in violation of the international agreement. 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 detentions and bans on entrance.

Meanwhile, the permitted visitation hours for non-Muslims are routinely used by right-wing Israelis to tour the Al-Aqsa compound, heightening tensions with Palestinian worshipers.

Last week, al-Khatib said that the Israeli government was “yielding to the extremist right-wing that has been attempting to unsettle the status quo at Al-Aqsa,” noting that the move was another attempt by the Israeli government to “impose facts on the ground.”

“This is a violation of his majesty King Abdullah II (of Jordan) and we will defend his custody with all the power we have,” al-Khatib said, while also warning of consequences that could result from Israeli “provocations and incursions into the compound."

Meanwhile, the Mufti of Jerusalem and Imam of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Muhammad Hussein warned that the shift in policy could result in consequences, adding that the decision has unveiled the "aggressive intentions" of Israeli authorities to enforce divisions at Al-Aqsa, referring to a longstanding fear among Palestinians that Israel would divide the Al-Aqsa Mosque between Muslims and Jews, as they did with the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron.

Severe restrictions on movement for Palestinians are typically implemented by Israeli authorities for alleged security purposes, particularly during Jewish holidays, while tensions around Al-Aqsa Mosque were a main contributor to increasing unrest that began in October 2015, after right-wing Israelis made frequent visits to the site during the Jewish high holiday season last year.

The compound, which sits just above the Western Wall plaza, houses both the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The third holiest site in Islam, it is also venerated as Judaism's most holy place, as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

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