Brief tussle after ‘right-wing Israelis’ try to enter Temple Mount area

17-strong group led away by Israeli police; Palestinians protest harassment of Christian clergy

Religious Jews visiting the Temple Mount, March 27, 2013. (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)
Religious Jews visiting the Temple Mount, March 27, 2013. (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)

Minor tussles broke out around al-Aqsa Mosque Wednesday morning after Israelis tried entering the Temple Mount, in the latest flare up between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem’s Old City in recent weeks.

According to Palestinian news agency Ma’an, 17 “right-wing Israelis” tried entering the site, prompting scuffles at the eastern entrance to the compound, near the Bab al-Huta neighborhood.

The group was escorted away from the mosque area by Israeli security forces, the paper added.

Nakba Day, the “catastrophe” of the displacement of Palestinians associated with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, was commemorated Wednesday.

Under current laws, Jews are theoretically allowed to ascend the mount and pray at the site, which is revered as the location of both ancient Jewish temples. However, police have the right to veto any visits and in practice prevent both prayer and high-profile Jewish visits.

Last week, the Knesset Interior Committee debated the long-standing unofficial ban on Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount, while the Religious Affairs Ministry said it was reexamining the possibility of revising the informal ban on Jewish prayer at the site.

Israeli police detained the Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Hussein, for questioning last week because he was suspected of participating in disturbances there last Tuesday. An Israeli official said the Muslim cleric was issued a warning and told to lower tensions a day after Muslim worshipers threw rocks and chairs at tourists visiting the hilltop compound that houses the mosque.

Israeli authorities also limited access to the contested holy site to Muslim worshipers a day after the flare-up of violence, causing Jordan and Egypt to “express concern” after members of their legislatures voted to kick the Israeli envoys out of their countries.

Meanwhile, several ambassadors from Arab nations to the UN met with the international body’s Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson Tuesday evening to protest what they called “Israel’s violations of religious rights in the territories, particularly in Jerusalem.”

Israel Radio reported that Palestinian UN observer Riyadh Mansour and several other envoys met with Eliasson to lodge their strong dissatisfaction over Israel’s arrest of the Mufti of Jerusalem, its “harassment of Christian clergy” during the Christian Orthodox Easter holiday in Jerusalem, and “settler provocations” at Temple Mount.

The rough treatment of three Egyptian diplomats by Israeli police occurred in early May, on the night before Easter Sunday, or Joyous Saturday, according to the Coptic calendar.

A group of Egyptians led by Mostafa Al-Qouni, the second-highest-ranking Egyptian at the embassy in Tel Aviv, were removed by Israeli police from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre while attending holiday Mass. A Coptic bishop who was with Quoni was beaten during the incident and briefly lost consciousness. He was treated at a Jerusalem hospital and later released.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin later offered a verbal apology to Cairo, but the incident managed to cause a mini-diplomatic crisis. The police are still looking into the incident.

Elhanan Miller contributed to this report.

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