PA stops Islamist group from performing holiday prayers in Hebron mosque
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PA stops Islamist group from performing holiday prayers in Hebron mosque

Crackdown comes as Hizb al-Tahrir supporters mark Eid al-Fitr on Monday, contradicting PA-appointed grand mufti of Jerusalem; social media pictures appear to show use of force

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Palestinian Authority security forces surrounding who appears to be a supporter of Hizb al-Tahrir in Hebron on June 4, 2019. (Screenshot: Twitter)
Palestinian Authority security forces surrounding who appears to be a supporter of Hizb al-Tahrir in Hebron on June 4, 2019. (Screenshot: Twitter)

Palestinian Authority security forces prevented members and supporters of an Islamist group in the West Bank on Tuesday from performing Eid al-Fitr prayers at a mosque in Hebron, according to a senior PA official in the city.

Pictures and videos posted on social media appeared to show PA security security forces detaining Hizb al-Tahrir supporters in the area around the Al-Abrar Mosque and employing force against some of them.

Hizb al-Tahrir, which supports the establishment of a caliphate ruled by Islamic law, declared on Monday that Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the conclusion of Ramadan, would start that evening, contradicting Mohammed Hussein, the PA-appointed grand mufti of Jerusalem who had announced that the festival would commence Tuesday night.

“Supporters and members of Hizb al-Tahrir tried to carry out holiday prayers in the Al-Abrar Mosque in Hebron, but our security forces stopped them from doing so,” the senior official, who works at PA headquarters in Hebron, said. “While they can do what they want in their homes, they do not have the right to use a mosque to revolt against the official Palestinian position on when Eid al-Fitr starts.”

According to Islamic tradition, Eid al-Fitr starts upon the first sighting of the new moon following the month of Ramadan. Hizb al-Tahrir declared that Eid al-Fitr would start Monday evening after a number of Muslim-majority countries, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, announced that it would begin at that time.

The Islamist group maintains that even if one Muslim-majority country declares it has seen the new moon, all Muslims should begin celebrating Eid al-Fitr.

Baher Saleh, an official in Hizb al-Tahrir’s media office, declined to comment on Tuesday’s incident, noting that his group does not communicate with Israeli news outlets.

However, he told Reuters that PA security forces arrested 13 persons in the area surrounding the mosque.

Bassam Shweiki, a Hebron-based activist, slammed the PA security forces for preventing Islamist group’s supporters from praying at the Muslim place of worship.

“It’s not acceptable how the PA forces acted. A mosque is a spiritual place and it is not appropriate for them to use this force they did,” Shweiki said in a phone call. “Everyone should be able to worship as they wish.”

The Hebron-based official accused Hizb al-Tahrir of declaring the start of the holiday Monday evening to undermine the PA.

“What they did was a political move,” he said. “They did that to undermine the PA’s sovereignty, which is something we cannot tolerate.”

Jihad Harb, a Ramallah-based researcher, said that the PA sometimes cracks down on Hizb al-Tahrir’s activities.

“There have been occasions when the PA did not allow Hizb al-Tahrir to hold public gatherings, but there have been many other occasions when it permitted it to do so,” he said, adding that PA security forces do not have major concerns about Hizb al-Tahrir because its members have not used violence to achieve their goals.

Hizb al-Tahrir was established in 1953 by Taqi al-Din al-Nabhani, a Muslim scholar and Islamic court judge who was born in the Haifa area.

Omran Risheq, a Palestinian analyst, described the group’s ideology in a 2008 article published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: “Hizb al-Tahrir made the idea of resurrecting the caliphate a permanent watchword of its political activity and a religious duty, in addition to being a panacea for the political, economic, and social problems of the world’s Muslims.”

Harb also said that Hizb al-Tahrir does not have many members compared to other Palestinian groups, such as Fatah.

“Most of their members live in Hebron and Jerusalem,” he said, estimating that some 5,000-7,000 Palestinians actively support it.

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