Israeli security forces detained Jerusalem’s top Islamic cleric as crowds gathered in the Old City following a shooting attack at the highly sensitive Temple Mount in which three Arab-Israelis killed two Israeli police officers, the cleric’s son said.
The grand mufti of Jerusalem Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the city’s highest Islamic authority, had earlier gathered in the Old City with others and condemned the closure of the holy site for prayers following the attack. Israel said it temporarily closed the site after the shooting for security reasons, including to search for weapons.
In his speech, Hussein called on Muslim masses to flood to the holy site, and condemned what he called Friday’s Israeli “aggression” there, Army Radio reported — a presumed reference to the closure of the site and/or to Israeli forces’ shooting of the assailants.
Muslim worshippers performed prayers in the streets after police sealed the area. Friday noon prayers mark the highlight of the Muslim religious week. Tens of thousands typically pray at the Temple Mount, which houses the third-holiest site in Islam — the Al-Aqsa Mosque — as well as the Dome of the Rock sanctuary. It is Judaism’s holiest site, venerated as the location of the destroyed first and second temples.
Police closed the site Friday, after the three Israeli-Arab assailants opened fire from there, killing the two policemen and injuring a third. With the mosque off limits, the faithful lined up near Damascus Gate and other entrances to the Old City.
Hussein’s son Jihad Hussein said his father had been taken to a police station near the Old City. “Until now, we don’t know what is going on with my father,” he said.
One of the mufti’s bodyguards, Khaled Hamo, said police “entered the crowd and took the mufti.”
Hussein was delivering his Friday sermon outside the Old City’s Lions’ Gate when he was detained, reported Kann News (the new Israel Broadcast Authority).
— כאן ועכשיו (@kann_news) July 14, 2017
A picture posted by the network showed Hussein surrounded by Border Police officers.
According to Army Radio, Hussein in his sermon called on Arabs and Palestinians to gather en masse for the sake of Jerusalem, and against the closure of the compound.
Hussein had earlier condemned the closure of the site following the attack, saying it was an “excuse.”
“I have very little information about [the attack], but it doesn’t mean you should close the mosque for prayers,” he told journalists at the Lions Gate entrance.
Police also detained Sheikh Akrama Sabari, the previous mufti of Jerusalem.
According to a tweet by journalist Nasser Atta, Sabari called on all Muslims to “liberate” Jerusalem and Palestine in his Friday sermon.
— Nasser Atta (@nasseratta5) July 14, 2017
Sabari is known for his vitriolic attacks against Israel and Judaism. He has in the past said Muslims will oust the “temporary” residents of Jerusalem, in reference to Jews.