Arrest of al-Aqsa guards

Arrest of al-Aqsa guards

Israel's detention of Palestinian security guards working at the al-Aqsa compound is "unacceptable" and Israeli police are trying to change the status quo at the holy site, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem says.

Israel's detention of Palestinian security guards working at the al-Aqsa compound is "unacceptable" and Israeli police are trying to change the status quo at the holy site, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem says. Israeli police detained several guards working at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem earlier this week after they prevented an Israeli archaeologist from trying to remove a stone from the religious compound.

The Israeli police are trying to impose a new reality and are trying to intimidate the al-Aqsa guards and to stop them from carrying out their duty. The initial confrontation happened on Monday morning after the guards at al-Aqsa intervened when Yuval Baruch, employed by the Israeli Antiquities Authority and escorted by Israeli police, entered the compound and tried to take a stone from a pillar in an underground section of the al-Qibli mosque.

Small piece of stone

An argument ensued when one of the guards allegedly noticed Baruch remove a small piece of stone from the pillar and place it in his pocket. Baruch has denied trying to remove it. The antiquities employee was removed from the area by police, but later tried to re-enter the underground Marwani prayer hall. Al-Aqsa guards quickly refused him entry.

Israeli police returned to the compound and arrested three guards, according to the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, a religious trust tasked with managing the al-Aqsa compound.

The police later raided the homes of four other guards and arrested them, before detaining another guard on Tuesday. Qasem Kamal, Khalil Terhoni, Arafat Najeeb, Osama Siam, Samer Qabbani and Emad Abdeen were expected to appear before a judge in Jerusalem on Wednesday, the Waqf said.

Analysis

Mufti Hussein demanded that Israel respect the status quo that has prevailed since before Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967. While Jews and non-Muslims are allowed to visit the compound, non-Muslim worship is prohibited according to an agreement signed between Jordan and Israel shortly after Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967.The agreement put Islamic Waqf in charge of the compound's administration.

The Mufti added that maintenance and renovation work at the compound are matters dealt with only by the Waqf and Israel has no right to intervene.

Tensions at al-Aqsa Mosque were a significant contributor to the wave of unrest that began in October 2015, after right-wing Israelis made frequent visits to the compound during the Jewish high holidays.

The al-Aqsa compound, also known as the Noble Sanctuary, is the third holiest site in Islam. Jews, who refer to the area as the Temple Mount, also see it as a venerated holy site and believe it sits where the First and Second Temples once stood.

Assessment

Israeli authority had "no business" in the al-Aqsa compound, but it frequently breaks in with a police force. Israeli police routinely escort Jewish visitors around the compound, and they often facilitate the visits of right-wing Israeli politicians who have been charged with attempting to "change the status quo" at the holy site.

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