Israeli authorities reopened the al-Aqsa Mosque to Muslim worshipers starting from dawn prayers on Wednesday, a day after police closed the entire site following clashes with Palestinians.
The closure came after what Israel said was a Molotov cocktail thrown at a police station just inside the plaza that Arabs call Haram al-Sharif, and Jews the Temple Mount. Police said that 10 people were arrested in connection with the firebombing.
Hanadi Halawani, one of a group of Palestinians who voluntarily remain at the al-Aqsa to watch over it, said she witnessed the incident and claimed to The Media Line that it had been staged by police, saying Israeli authorities didn’t move to extinguish the blaze, "which proves that they were behind it."
She further blamed Israeli security forces for the resulting unrest.
“They started at al-Rahma gate, where they insulted worshipers,” Halawani said. “Then the police escalated the clashes to an outdoor area."
She believes that Israel wants to show Muslims, as well as the whole world, that it controls the mosque and is responsible for it.
“Israel is trying to prove something that isn't right. The real owners of the mosque are all the Muslims around the world."
When contacted by The Media Line, Israeli police claimed that "several suspects approached officers on the Temple Mount and threw a Molotov cocktail towards them.
"During searches conducted," the statement continued, "police found several containers with flammable materials in various locations."
The latest flare-up at the holy place comes after two senior officials of the Waqf Islamic trust that administers religious sites on the Haram al-Sharif recently were arrested following a week of rioting that culminated with Palestinians forcing their way into the shuttered Golden Gate area.
An Israeli court ordered the section—also known as the Gate of Mercy—closed in 2003, as Islamists with ties to Hamas allegedly used it as a political staging ground. The Israeli government also accused the Waqf of conducting illegal excavations there in order to destroy archaeological evidence of the Jewish people’s connection to Jerusalem.
For their part, the Palestinians believe the Israelis are planning to turn the area into a Jewish prayer section, which dovetails with the broader “al-Aqsa is in danger” campaign that in the past ignited mass protests.
All of this, meanwhile, comes on the heels of a move last month by Jordan—the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem—to expand the Waqf’s administrative council so that Palestinian officials could for the first time be included in its ranks. The decision is viewed as a bid to consolidate the PA’s claim to the eastern part of Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
Mahmoud al-Habash, the Palestinian Authority’s supreme Shari’a judge and religious adviser, said Israel had no right to open or close the gates to the plaza.
“It is the Waqf’s responsibility, and Israel's involvement only increases tensions," he told The Media Line.
Habash added that the only way to stop clashes between police and Muslim worshipers was for Israel not to involve itself in the al-Aqsa Mosque at all.
A statement issued from Cairo’s Azhar Mosque, whose leader is considered the highest theological authority for Sunni Muslims, strongly condemned Israeli police for raiding al-Aqsa and closing it to worshipers.
The statement called this a violation of the area’s sanctity, something that enrages Muslims around the world, and urged the global community to pressure Israel to respect international resolutions and conventions.For more stories, visit themedialine.org.