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Israeli police release top Waqf officials, bans them from Al-Aqsa

February 24, 2019 at 1:00 pm

Israeli forces released two Palestinian religious figures after taking them into custody for a few hours following recent protests in East Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque.

On Sunday, Sheikh Abdul Azim Salhab, the head of the Muslim Waqf (Endowment) Council in Jerusalem, and Sheikh Najeh Bkerat, the deputy director of Muslim Endowments and Al-Aqsa Affairs, were arrested in Israeli raids on their homes.

Their lawyer Mohammad Mahmoud said Israeli police have released the two religious figures but banned them from entering Al-Aqsa Mosque for seven days without referring them to court.

The brief detention was condemned by the Palestinian government and Jordan.

Sheikh Abdu Azim Salhab, Head of the Endowment (al Qawf) Council in Jerusalem

Sheikh Abdu Azim Salhab, Head of the Endowment (al Qawf) Council in Jerusalem

Sunday’s arrests came in the wake of Palestinian protests against Israel’s closure of Al-Aqsa Mosque’s Rahma Gate on the eastern wall of Jerusalem’s Old City.

The Islamic Endowments Authority, a Jordan-run entity mandated with overseeing East Jerusalem’s Muslim and Christian holy sites, has lodged repeated requests with the Israeli authorities for the gate to be permanently reopened.

On Friday, Israeli police arrested dozens of Palestinians in East Jerusalem in hope of preempting protests against the Israeli closure of the gate.

The Al-Rahma Gate was first closed by the Israeli authorities in 2003. An Israeli court renewed the closure order in 2017.

For Muslims, the Al-Aqsa represents the world’s third holiest site. Jews, for their part, refer to the area as the “Temple Mount”, claiming it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem, in which the Al-Aqsa is located, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It annexed the entire city in 1980 in a move never recognized by the international community.