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Israeli forces detain dozens of Al-Aqsa employees in wake of deadly shooting

July 14, 2017 9:33 P.M. (Updated: July 15, 2017 1:36 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli forces detained dozens of Islamic Endowment employees at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Friday, following a deadly shooting attack earlier in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem that left two Israeli police officers and three Palestinians dead, with witnesses claiming that Israeli forces had also vandalized facilities at the holy site.

Firas Dibs, head of public relations at the Islamic Endowment, or Waqf, which runs the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, told Ma’an that Israeli forces had detained 58 employees of the Waqf on Friday, and interrogated each of them about what they were doing at Al-Aqsa during the time of the attack and whether they had taken videos or pictures.

Meanwhile, Head of the cleaning department at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound Khalid Abu Nijma said that Israeli forces had detained him and all of the other cleaning employees. They were transferred to interrogations at an Israeli police station and their phones were confiscated, Abu Nijma said.

Abu Nijma added that during the detentions Israeli police had tried to “exert pressure on them” by moving them between rooms and departments and forcing them to wait long hours, a common tactic employed by Israeli forces during interrogations.
Rami Khatib, another Waqf employee, told Ma’an that Israeli special forces had also vandalized inside facilities at the holy compound by “smashing” doors and toilets.

A witness had also told Ma’an earlier on Friday that Israeli forces had raided the mosque with shoes on, in violation of the Muslim tradition which mandates that shoes be taken off in places of worship, and emptied out garbage containers in the compound under the claim that they were searching the containers.

Palestinian lawyer Mamoun al-Hashim also told Ma’an that an Israeli court had extended the detention of three Waqf employees, identified as Ayman al-Khaldi, Majid al-Tamimi, and Tariq Sandouqa, while the rest of the detainees were released after hours of interrogations with Israeli authorities.

Locals said that Israeli forces had also detained a member of a national working committee in Jerusalem from his home in Beit Safafa, allegedly owing to an interview he did on television about the attack. Israeli police had said that the interview was considered “incitement,” locals told Ma’an.

The detained member’s son Murad Jadallah told Ma’an that Israeli forces had transferred his father to interrogations at an Israeli police station in West Jerusalem.
Earlier on Friday, dozens of Israeli soldiers and intelligence officers raided and completely surrounded Al-Aqsa following the armed confrontations, which took place at the Lions’ Gate entrance to the Old City -- where the two police officers, both Druze citizens of Israel were killed -- and ended inside the compound where the three Palestinians, also citizens of Israel, were shot and killed.

Israeli forces had also detained the grand mufti of Jerusalem Sheikh Muhammad Hussein early Friday afternoon while he was performing prayers among a crowd of Muslim worshipers who had been forced to pray on the street after Israeli forces closed off the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the wake of the attack.

He was released hours later on a bail of 10,000 shekels ($2,813).

Meanwhile, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement on Friday announcing that the Al-Aqsa Mosque would remain closed until Sunday and that a mourning tent that had been installed in the three assailants’ hometown of Umm al-Fahm in northern Israel would be dismantled.

The tent, which was erected by the families of the three assailants, would be dismantled by Israeli authorities and “tightened procedures” would be implemented at roads in the Old City leading to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Netanyahu said.

He added that the mosque would be opened gradually to Muslim worshippers following another security session expected to be held among Israeli authorities on Sunday.
While Palestinians have expressed concern over the potential for Israel’s right-wing government to use the attack as an opportunity to challenge the longstanding status quo of Al-Aqsa, which restricts non-Muslim worship at the site, Netanyahu had reportedly told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that no changes would take place.

Following Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has maintained a compromise with the Islamic trust that controls the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to not allow non-Muslim prayers in the area. However, non-Muslims are permitted to visit the site during designated times.

Israeli forces nonetheless regularly escort Jewish visitors to the compound, who often carry out Jewish religious rituals and prayers at the site, leading to tensions with Palestinian worshipers.

Palestinians have long feared that Israel has been attempting to shake up the status quo at the holy site, in the shape of routine Jewish incursions on the site and right-wing Israeli calls to demolish the mosque and replace it with a third Jewish temple.
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