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Israel continues closure of Al-Aqsa Mosque compound for 2nd day

July 15, 2017 10:52 A.M. (Updated: July 15, 2017 9:54 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli forces continued to enforce a closure on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City for the second day on Saturday, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected international calls to immediately open the holy site, where three Palestinian assailants were shot dead on Friday by Israeli forces after carrying out a shooting attack that killed two Israeli police officers.

Officials of the Islamic Endowment, or Waqf, in charge of running the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, told Ma’an on Saturday morning that Israeli forces continued to be deployed at all of the compound’s entrances and all roads in the Old City leading to the holy site.

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 detained dozens of worshippers and Waqf employees, and restricted Palestinians from accessing the site for Friday prayers for the first time since 1967, according to Palestinian leaders.

Palestinians were forced to carry out the prayers on the streets outside of the Old City, where Israeli forces also detained the grand mufti of Jerusalem Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, subsequently releasing him after hours of detention.
The holy compound has since been under lockdown. Waqf officials told Ma’an that the adhan -- the Muslim call to prayer -- had not been performed since Israel’s restrictions on Al-Aqsa and that Al-Aqsa mosque-goers have so far missed five prayers.

The officials added that after the intervention of the Jordanian government, which legally controls Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Israeli authorities permitted the Director of Al-Aqsa Mosque Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani to enter the compound at midnight in order to conduct a short checkup of the premises.

Palestinian news agency Wafa quoted Yousif al-Othaimeen, the secretary-general of the Islamic Organization of Islamic Cooperation, in a statement on Sunday, saying that the closure of Al-Aqsa Mosque is an "unprecedented crime and flagrant assault against holy sites and freedom to worship."

The international community, he added, should take immediate steps to stop the ongoing Israeli aggressions against Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.

A statement released Friday afternoon by the Jordanian government’s spokesperson Muhammad al-Momani reportedly demanded that Israel immediately open the Al-Aqsa Mosque and warned Israel of taking steps that could “change the historic status quo in Jerusalem and the mosque. "

However, Netanyahu announced on Friday that the compound would be closed to worshippers until Sunday, when Israeli leaders are expected to meet again to assess the situation in order to gradually open the holy site to Muslim worshippers.
Meanwhile, Waqf officials told Ma’an that Israeli forces had continued to vandalize parts of the compound’s facilities, including breaking down the doors of libraries, prayer places, clinics, and fire protection stations.

The entirety of the Old City has been shuttered to Palestinians who don't reside there, while Israelis and tourists have been allowed to enter undisturbed.

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 prohibits non-Muslim worship at the site, by restricting Palestinians’ right to worship at Al-Aqsa, the third holiest site in Islam.

Ahmad Tibi, member of the Joint List coalition that represents Palestinian citizens of Israel at the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, shared a video Saturday on Twitter, showing the emptied alleyways and shuttered storefronts of the Old City amid the harsh Israeli security measures.

On Friday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had called Netanyahu to condemn the attack, while Netanyahu reportedly told Abbas that no changes to the status quo would take place.

The Arab League, meanwhile, released a statement on Friday condemning Israel’s restrictions on Al-Aqsa, reportedly saying that the decision would “flame extremism and escalate tension” in the region, and immediately demanded Al-Aqsa’s reopening.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad have applauded the attack for its contributions to Palestinian resistance and its attempts to “liberate Palestine” -- referring to Israel, which many Palestinians have referred to as "occupied Palestine" since the Israeli state’s establishment in 1948 -- from Israeli control.

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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