RAMALLAH (RAHNUMA) : The Israeli government will close Al-Aqsa Mosque to Jewish groups until the end of Ramadan, bowing to local, regional and international pressure after violent clashes at the flashpoint site.
The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth said that the government decided to close Al-Aqsa’s courtyards to Jewish settlers from April 22 until the end of Ramadan on May 1 and keep the area open only for Muslim worshippers.
In a bid to stem further violence, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday barred far-right MP Itamar Ben Gvir from entering Muslim areas of Jerusalem’s Old City and holding a rally.
Tensions in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem have spiked in recent weeks, amid nearly a month of deadly violence in Israel and the occupied West Bank, with the Jewish Passover festival coinciding with Ramadan.
The ban is intended to prevent further violence in the Old City, including Al-Aqsa, where recent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces left more than 170 injured.
Ben Gvir had announced he would take part in a rally on Wednesday evening, saying he would march through Damascus Gate, the main entrance to the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.
Bennett accepted the recommendation of security chiefs to stop the outspoken MP from entering Damascus Gate.
“I have no intention of allowing petty politics to endanger human lives. I will not allow a political provocation by Ben Gvir to endanger IDF (Israeli army) soldiers and Israeli police officers, and render their already heavy task even heavier,” Bennett said.
In response, Ben-Gvir said: “The security of the coalition government is not the security of the country. The police, under the direction of the left-wing minister of internal security, is trying in every way to prevent Jews from walking in the ‘Israeli capital’ with the Israeli flag. Our response to our enemy is that we will arrive today and we will raise the Israeli flag with pride.”
Bennett, a key figure in Israel’s settlement movement, leads a fragile coalition government.
Sheikh Omar Al-Kiswani, director of Al-Aqsa Mosque, told Arab News that the Islamic Awqaf had asked Israeli authorities to put a stop to visits by extremist Jewish groups from April 16 until Ramadan’s end, but there was no response from the government.
King Abdullah of Jordan led intensive efforts this week to guarantee freedom of worship at Al-Aqsa, especially during Ramadan, and to stop Israeli aggression against worshippers.
More than 1,100 settlers stormed the mosque on Wednesday, sparking violent protests and clashes with Israeli police, who fired rubber bullets to disperse protesters.
With the end of the Jewish holiday approaching, large numbers of radical Jews headed to Maghrabi Gate, trying to enter the mosque, as shown in a video broadcast by Israeli activists.
Hussein Al-Sheikh, a PLO executive committee member, said that the historic status quo gives the Islamic Awqaf responsibility for Al-Aqsa’s management, maintenance, reconstruction and supervision of visitors to its courtyards.
Control of police, as well as determining the number and ages of worshippers, is a flagrant breach of the status quo and an attempt to divide Al-Aqsa between Jews and Muslims, he claimed.
Israeli settlers have organized provocative flag marches in the Old City, and announced plans to pass through Damascus Gate and nearby neighborhoods despite disagreements with Israeli police on the matter.
In an interview with the Israeli Army Radio, former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy strongly criticized the Jewish right-wing groups involved in the marches, saying that Jews should not be allowed to raid Al-Aqsa and describing their actions as “behavior that contradicts Jewish law.”
Halevy said that allowing flag marches in the Old City could lead to “bloodshed.”
Mahmoud Al-Habbash, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said that “prayer in the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque is an exclusive right for Muslims only, and supervision of the mosque affairs is the sole responsibility of Islamic Awqaf, and the occupation and its authorities have no right to interfere with its affairs.”
Al-Habbash called on the international community to end its double standards on Palestine in the face of Israeli aggression, calling for a halt to the “frenzied attacks” on the holy city.
He described Israeli measures against Al-Aqsa Mosque and its worshippers, including determining the ages of those allowed to pray there, as “insolence”, an attack on the religious rights of Muslims and a flagrant violation of international law.