Called Israel 'enemy state,' wished 'death' for 'occupation'

Police gear up for potential new violence in Lod after arrest of imam

Sheikh Yusuf Albaz, suspected of inciting violence, remains in custody, as police appeal decision to send him to house arrest; 8 arrested for unrest at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate

Sheikh Yosef Elbaz, arrested on suspicion of inciting violence, terrorism and making threats, arrives for a hearing at the court in Rishon Lezion, on June 17, 2021. (Flash90)
Sheikh Yosef Elbaz, arrested on suspicion of inciting violence, terrorism and making threats, arrives for a hearing at the court in Rishon Lezion, on June 17, 2021. (Flash90)

Police were bracing for a potential outbreak of violence in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Lod, following the arrest of a local imam on suspicion of incitement to violence.

A judge on Thursday ordered Sheikh Yusuf Albaz released to house arrest, but police appealed the ruling, and he remained under arrest until that matter is reviewed again.

The force was considering sending additional officers to the city as a precaution, Kan news reported, as Albaz, 63, an imam at Lod’s Great Mosque, remained in police custody.

Albaz was arrested over social media posts encouraging violence against the police. In one clip he shared from the Australian horror movie, “Wolf Creek,” a man is shown murdering traffic police officers after getting a ticket. Albaz wrote: “The best way to deal with injustice.”

The imam, who is allied with the outlawed Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, has also referred to Israel as an “enemy state” in the past, and wished “death” upon the “Zionist occupation” in previous online posts.

In a 2012 clip aired by Channel 12, Elbaz was shown addressing a mob amid clashes with police, accusing Israel of carrying out “dozens of incidents of slaughter” and vowing that Israel will “exit the land” before the Arabs do.

Albaz was questioned by investigators in the Lahav 433 unit and reportedly told them that he does not take back his social media posts.

“That’s my Facebook. I am responsible for it and I stand behind every word that I posted. This isn’t incitement,” Albaz reportedly told investigators.

During a remand hearing on Thursday, presiding Judge Erez Melamed said that Albaz’s remarks did constitute incitement, but that he saw no need to keep him in jail while the investigation continues.

“The investigative actions are not disruptive and can be carried out when the suspect is in restrictive conditions,” Melamed said.

Melamed ordered that Albaz be released to house arrest for a week, but police asked for a 24-hour delay in carrying out the decision, in order to appeal it.

Police were preparing for the possibility that Albaz’s arrest would spark fresh riots in the city that recently saw deadly clashes between its Jewish and Arab communities.

A car that was burned during recent clashes between Jewish and Arab residents of Lod, in the central Israeli city of Lod, May 23, 2021. (Flash90)

At the end of last month, the Shin Bet security service told Albaz that he needed to tone down his remarks or he would face arrest, Channel 12 news reported at the time.

The warning was issued as the Shin Bet was reluctant to arrest the imam at a time when tensions in the city were still running high, the report said.

In the days that followed, Albaz apparently complied and removed some of his more provocative posts, the network said.

Albaz’s attorney Rais Abu Saif, told Haaretz on Thursday that Albaz had been in contact with police in recent days, though no claims of incitement were personally directed at him during those exchanges.

“He was asked to encourage calm, which he did,” the lawyer said.

Tensions between Israel’s Jewish and Arab communities spiraled into mob violence in multiple ethnically mixed communities last month — during an 11-day conflict in Gaza — with several cities descending into mayhem, and police failing to contain the most serious internal unrest to grip the country in years.

Lod saw some of the worst ethnic violence with a Jewish and an Arab man killed in separate incidents during the unrest.

Thursday also saw eight Arab suspects arrested for disturbing the peace at the Damascus Gate of the Old City, Israel Police said in a statement.

They were protesting against a march, held Tuesday, during which thousands of Jewish nationalists paraded through the Old City to the Western Wall.

The contentious flag march was originally held during last month’s unrest and was interrupted at the time by rocket fire from Gaza at the capital, which sparked off the 11 days of intense fighting.

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