Israeli security forces disconnected the power supply to the Islamic call to prayer on the Temple Mount as an official Memorial Day service was held in the adjacent Western Wall square on Tuesday evening, the site’s Muslim administrators said.
“[Israeli forces] forcibly stormed the minarets of Al-Aqsa Mosque after cutting the door locks with special equipment, then they cut the wires of the main minarets in the mosque,” Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, who manages the Temple Mount for the Jordanian-backed Islamic Waqf, said on Wednesday.
The Israel Police declined to comment on the alleged operation, refusing to answer over the phone or to a written email query.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas weighed in on the incident through a spokesperson, calling it “a racist hate crime.”
“This is a racist attack on the sanctity of the holy places and the freedom of worship,” added Abbas spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh.
The hilltop is revered by both Muslims and Jews and is a site where large numbers of Palestinians often gather, especially for Friday prayers. It has long been a flashpoint, and confrontations there between Palestinians and Israeli security forces have occasionally turned deadly.
After capturing the area and the rest of the Old City from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, Israel continued to grant the Waqf, which is funded and controlled by the Jordanian government, near-complete control of the area. Israeli security forces are present on the mount and work in coordination with the Waqf. Jews are allowed to visit, but unlike Muslims, are strictly prohibited from praying on Temple Mount grounds.
The Palestinian leadership has a long history of attempting to rally its public in response to alleged Israeli infringements on Muslim sovereignty in the Al-Aqsa compound. Official Palestinian Authority media often shows visits by religious Jews to the site, which it deems “settler invasions.”
“Such a policy can turn the conflict into an open religious war that will harm international peace and security — something for which Israel will bear full responsibility,” Abu Rudeineh said on Tuesday night, in response to the alleged police action.
Numerous other Palestinian officials stepped in to comment on the affair. Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki called the incident just one in a string of “repeated [acts of] aggression” by Israel at the holy site.
According to the Israel Police, some Muslim worshipers returning from prayer threw stones and firecrackers at passing buses and police officers close to Damascus Gate. Some six passersby were injured and five people were arrested, police reported.
Sheikh Safwat Freij, the deputy chief of Israel’s Islamic Movement, lamented in a phone call with The Times of Israel the friction the alleged Israeli action caused between Muslim worshipers and Jews.
“There ought to have been dialogue, so that thousands of Muslim worshipers would not need to have their rights violated, especially on the first night of Ramadan. They could have begun their [Memorial Day ceremony] earlier or later, allowing prayer to go unhindered,” said Freij, who directs the Al-Aqsa Charitable Association.
Asked whether the Waqf could have compromised on some of its demands — including, for example, delaying or lowering the volume of the call to prayer to respect the solemn ceremony taking place next door — Freij said only: “Wherever there are good intentions, there are solutions to be found through dialogue and respect. When there is an intention to find a solution, there are ways to find one.”