Ex-mufti says al-Aqsa closure 'collective punishment'

Clerics and worshipers barred from entering al-Aqsa Mosque compound for second day after gun attack leaves five dead.

    Israel deploys hundreds of troops and erects roadblocks at the entrances of Jerusalem's Old City [Mahmoud Illean/AP]
    Israel deploys hundreds of troops and erects roadblocks at the entrances of Jerusalem's Old City [Mahmoud Illean/AP]

    A senior Palestinian cleric has denounced Israel's closure of the al-Aqsa Mosque following a rare gun attack, calling the measures "collective punishment" that affects thousands of worshippers.

    Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, the former grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestinian territories, said on Saturday that Israeli authorities have barred Muslim leaders from entering the mosque and banned prayers there for a second day after a shootout near the compound left five people dead.

    "This is unprecedented. The mosque has not been closed for centuries. The situation is dangerous," said Adnan Husseini, Palestinian Authority's Jerusalem governor, at a press conference on Saturday.

    Israeli authorities are "inflating this situation", he said. "We live in a conflict and there's violence almost daily. Palestinians are killed in cold blood almost daily at checkpoints."

    Bassam al-Halaq, a senior official of Awqaf, an Islamic authority in charge of al-Aqsa, told Al Jazeera that the Israeli police were searching the entire compound, breaking through doors.

    "To this point, the noble sanctuary remains closed and all chambers inside it are being searched by the Israeli police. If a chamber is locked, the lock is broken. Only three Awqaf employees are allowed on the site, including the chief electrical engineer," he said.

    Israeli authorities have deployed hundreds of troops and erected roadblocks at the entrances of Jerusalem's Old City after the attack in which three Palestinian assailants and two Israeli policemen were killed.

    Non-residents, including shop keepers and doctors who work there, have been barred entry to the Old City.

    "We reject the current Israeli violations against the al-Aqsa Mosque and call for their immediate withdrawal," said Sabri, adding that the mosque was last closed for prayers in 1969 in the aftermath of the Six Day War in 1967.

    READ MORE: Jerusalem - Israeli policemen killed in shooting attack

    Sabri's successor, Sheikh Mohammad Ahmed Hussein, was briefly detained by Israeli authorities, which closed the Muslim-administered compound, the third holiest site in Islam, for Friday prayers after the deadly attack.

    Al Jazeera's Harry Fawcett, reporting from West Jerusalem, said the Old City remains on lock down on Saturday.

    "There is a heavy police presence in the Old City. People there say they are having to hunker down in their homes - they feel as if there's a de facto curfew going on," he said.

    In a statement on Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the holy site would be gradually reopened to worshippers and visitors based on a security estimate "that will be made Sunday".

    The mosque compound is known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif while Jews call it Temple Mount.

    In 2015, Israeli soldiers stormed the mosque that resulted in days of violence and clashes. Palestinians fear an increased incursion of Israeli right-wing groups into the mosque compound.

    Jordan, the custodian of the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, has urged Israel to "immediately reopen" it, while the Arab League called its closure "dangerous".

    Netanyahu has promised to honour long-standing access agreements, saying the status quo governing the site "will be preserved".

    The compound lies in East Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed in a move that was never recognised by the international community.

    Jews are allowed to visit, but are banned from praying there to avoid provoking tensions. They pray at the western wall of the compound, which is considered the holiest site for Jews.

    In a phone call with Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday expressed his "strong rejection and condemnation of the incident" and rejected "any act of violence from any side, especially in places of worship", according to the official Palestinian news agency, WAFA.

    UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned the attack could spark more violence and urged all sides to avoid escalation.

    Additional reporting by Ibrahim Husseini

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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