Residents gather in protest of Rahat mosque demolition

Officials says mosque built illegally; protesters throw stones, 5 arrested; Rahat mayor calls general strike and residents begin rebuilding.

rahat city view 298 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
rahat city view 298 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
A large force of policemen provided security for officials of the Israel Lands Authority who destroyed an illegal mosque in the Beduin city of Rahat in the Negev on Sunday morning.
The mosque was built without government approval with donations giving by members of the radical Islamist northern branch of the Islamic Movement.
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Hundreds of local residents gathered in protest of the demolition, with some throwing stones at the officers. The Rahat municipality also announced a general strike this morning in the city, including area schools.
Nobody was injured and rioters were dispersed within a short time using tear gas. Five rioters were arrested.
Despite protests, Rahat Mayor Faiz Abu Seheban admitted Sunday that he himself issued an order to cease construction of the mosque, as well as a demolition order at the beginning of its construction.
Seheban said he was surprised the demolition occurred Sunday, saying he met previously with hundreds of police to carry out the court order, but said "the protest is happening because the mosque is being destroyed during a holy period for Muslims and for this reason a general strike was declared."
After the demolition, officials from the Israel Lands Authority left, but police forces remained in the area to ensure calm.
Rahat police was reportedly on high alert in case of further disturbances.
Enforcement officials said that members from "the Islamic Movement acted with defiance all the way: they were given an option to construct the building nearby but they rejected it, they didn't obtain building permits, and illegally connected the site to the electricity grid. Their attempts to protest the demolition attracted few people."
However, Rahat residents reportedly began to rebuild the mosque on Sunday, with dozens of worshipers gathering around the ruins, according to Israel Radio.