A prayer vigil at the Golden Gate patio area on the Temple Mount as police look on, February 21, 2019. A court order closed the area after the Waqf was cause conducting unauthorized construction and excavations.
(photo credit: screenshot)
The Jerusalem Wakf Council announced on Sunday that a section of the Temple Mount that was closed by Israel in 2003 will remain open, even after the arrest of two of its senior officials.
The announcement came shortly after Jerusalem police released two senior Wakf officials who were arrested earlier in the day for their role in last week’s events on the Temple Mount, during which thousands of Palestinians forced their way into the section, which is known as the Golden Gate in English and the Gate of Mercy in Arabic.
Located in the northern third of the Temple Mount’s eastern wall, the Golden Gate was sealed off by Muslim warrior Salah ad-Din, after regaining Jerusalem in 1187.
The controversial section, which Muslims call Bab al-Rahma, is located opposite the sealed ancient gate.
The two officials who were taken into custody by the Jerusalem police are Sheikh Abdel Azim Salhab, chairman of the Wakf Council, and Sheikh Najeh Bkeirat, deputy director of the Wakf Department in Jerusalem.
Upon their release, the two were handed orders barring them from entering the Temple Mount for one week.
Salhab said immediately after he was released from Jerusalem police headquarters that his arrest will not stop him from “safeguarding the entire compound of al-Aqsa Mosque.”
Bkeirat said that he was interrogated about his role in the “reopening of the Gate of Mercy site.” He said that he made it clear to the police that the site is an “integral part of al-Aqsa Mosque and is not subject to negotiation or bargaining.” The Wakf Department is determined to carry out renovation work at the site in the near future, he added.
Three east Jerusalem activists who were arrested by the police on Saturday were also released after being prohibited from entering the Temple Mount compound for three days. They are Nasser Qoss, Husni Kilani and Ali Ajjaj.
Sheikh Raed Da’na, the imam of a mosque in the neighborhood of Bet Hanina in northern Jerusalem, said he was served with an order barring him from entering the Temple Mount compound for six months.
“The Wakf Council will not recognize any decision made by the occupation authorities concerning al-Aqsa Mosque,” the Wakf said in a statement, “We are committed to keeping the Gate of Mercy prayer section open.”
The controversial site was closed 16 years ago by court order to prevent the Wakf, the Islamic Movement in Israel, the Northern Branch and Hamas-affiliated elements from opening offices and carrying out illegal excavation work there.
Palestinians claim that Israel is planning to turn the area into a section for Jewish prayers.
Last Friday, thousands of Palestinians converged on the site after removing an iron gate that the police had installed at the entrance to the area.
The arrest of the Wakf officials drew strong condemnations from the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, which controls the Wakf Department in Jerusalem and is widely recognized as “custodian” of the holy shrines in the city.
Jordanian Minister of Wakf and Islamic Affairs, Abdul Nasser Abu Basal, condemned the police crackdown as a “dangerous and unacceptable escalation that affects the Jordanian role in caring for Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem.”
Jordan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry also condemned the arrests.
“Such provocative measures are categorically rejected by Jordan,” said Sufian Qudah, spokesman of the ministry. Under international law, he said, the Jerusalem Wakf Department “is the sole party which has exclusive jurisdictions over al-Aqsa Mosque/Haram al-Sharif [Noble Sanctuary] affairs.”
The spokesman said that Jordan has lodged a formal protest against the Israeli “violations.” He also warned that unilateral actions against Jerusalem’s holy shrines will only create further tensions.
Mahmoud Habbash, religious affairs adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, accused Israel of “kidnapping” the two senior Wakf officials and scores of east Jerusalem activists in the past few days. He said that the Palestinians’ success in reopening the closed section on the Temple Mount was proof that the “right-wing government in the state of occupation has failed with its scheme to Judaize Jerusalem.”
Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction also accused Israel of perpetrating “war crimes” and “waging a religious war” against the Palestinians. Fatah spokesman Osama Qawassmeh said that the arrest of the Wakf officials and Fatah activists in east Jerusalem will not deter the Palestinians from “defending Jerusalem and its Islamic and Christian holy sites.” He also appealed to the Arabs and Muslims “to immediately intervene to save al-Aqsa Mosque from Israeli crimes.”
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