Israel bans senior Islamic cleric, colleagues from entering Aqsa Mosque
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Israel bans senior Islamic cleric, colleagues from entering Aqsa Mosque

Move follows a rise in tensions over closure of an entrance to holy compound

Palestinians worshipers gather before Friday noon prayers at the premises of the Golden Gate on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, on February 22, 2019. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
Palestinians worshipers gather before Friday noon prayers at the premises of the Golden Gate on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, on February 22, 2019. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Israel has banned several Islamic officials appointed by Jordan from entering the Temple Mount in Jerusalem following clashes between Palestinian worshipers and Israeli police in recent weeks.

Abdel Azem Salhab, the highest-ranking official in the Waqf, the Jordanian-run council that oversees the site, said Israeli police handed him and two other Palestinian officials the order on Sunday.

The site, the Jews’ holiest, is referred to as the Noble Sanctuary by Muslims, who consider it the third-holiest place in Islam.

Salhab said police informed him the ban was because of his role in opening a gate that has been closed by Israeli court order since 2003. Last month, thousands streamed into the closed-off section during Friday prayers.

Jordan’s Religious Affairs Minister Abdel Nasser Abu Albasal condemned the Israeli decision as “a new escalation” meant to disrupt the council’s work. Police last week also briefly detained Salhab, which led to a strong condemnation from Jordan.

Jerusalem's Golden Gate, which abuts the Temple Mount. (photo credit: Keren Freeman/Flash90)
Jerusalem’s Golden Gate, which abuts the Temple Mount. (photo credit: Keren Freeman/Flash90)

In a series of recent protests, hundreds of Muslim worshipers have clashed with police and scores have been arrested after they tried to break into the plaza through the sealed entrance.

The Gate of Mercy, or Golden Gate, on the eastern side of the Temple Mount, was sealed by Israeli authorities over 15 years ago because the group managing the area had ties to Hamas and the Waqf was carrying out construction work Israel deemed illegal and which officials believe has led to the destruction of antiquities from periods of Jewish presence in the area.

The Waqf administration appealed to the attorney general last month, seeking his intervention in the police decision to close the gate, the Haaretz daily reported.

The Waqf has seen a new infusion of activists recently as Jordan, its longtime patron and overseer, moved earlier this month to share control with local Jerusalem Palestinian leaders.

In mid-February, Jordan enlarged the Waqf’s council from 11 members to 18. For the first time, Palestinian Authority officials and religious leaders were installed in the body, which has historically been made up of individuals close to the Jordanian monarchy.

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