40,000 attend prayers at holy site after Israeli ban on top cleric

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Palestinian Muslim worshippers pray during Friday noon prayers near the Golden Gate (background), also known as the Gate of Mercy, inside the Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, on March 8, 2019. (AFP)
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Palestinian Muslim worshippers pray during Friday noon prayers near the Golden Gate (background), also known as the Gate of Mercy, inside the Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, on March 8, 2019. (AFP)
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Palestinians, including clerics, pray outside the Lion's Gate entrance to the Aqsa mosque compound on March 8, 2019 after a number of religious officials were banned by Israeli authorities from entering the holy site for 40 days. (AFP)
Updated 09 March 2019
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40,000 attend prayers at holy site after Israeli ban on top cleric

  • ‘We don’t recognize Israeli courts and we are keeping a vigilant eye ... on our religious properties’
  • A Jerusalem court this week gave the Waqf religious organisation that administers the site until March 10 to explain why the closure order should be lifted

AMMAN: A row over an Israeli ban on a top cleric entering Islam’s third-holiest site failed to prevent thousands of Muslims flocking to Friday prayers.

More than 40,000 worshippers packed into Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and the adjoining Bab Al-Rahmeh prayer area less than a week after the Israeli government placed a 40-day bar on head of the Jerusalem Waqf Council, Sheikh Abdel Azeem Salhab, from accessing the mosque. 

The Israelis have also ordered his deputy, Najeh Bkeirat, to stay away from Al-Aqsa mosque for four months.

Jordanian Minister of Waqf Abdel Naser Abu Basel last week described the ban on Salhab, who holds diplomatic status, as “unacceptable” and said the Israeli move was designed to “cripple” the work of the Jerusalem waqf and “terrorize” its members.

But Salhab told Arab News that the waqf council refused to contest the issue in the Israeli courts.

“We don’t recognize Israeli courts and we are keeping a vigilant eye as to what is happening on our religious properties, including Al-Aqsa Mosque,” he said.

Hatem Abdel Qader, a member of the newly established waqf council in Jerusalem, told Arab News that Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa went without incident.

“We are not interested in escalating the situation, and the other side (Israel) appears to have also lowered the level of tension,” he said.

Israeli officials including Nadav Argaman, the head of internal intelligence Shin Bet, have reportedly held high-level talks with their Jordanian counterparts in Amman aimed at taking the heat out of the situation in Jerusalem.

Officials in Amman told Arab News that all offers to close Bab Al-Rahmeh were rejected. 

Waqf council member Abdel Qader confirmed negotiations were taking place but said these were more to do with the mechanics of getting equipment and materials for renovation work into the prayer hall. 

He said that Bab Al-Rahmeh has been in urgent need of repair for years.

Seven women who were recently arrested outside the mosque were on Friday released on condition they stay away from Al-Aqsa for a week. 

More than 100 Palestinian Muslims have been ordered by the Israelis to keep clear of the mosque.

Salhab said that there was no religious reason to stop women from being added to the waqf council. “I see no problem in having women in our council,” the cleric added. 

“They should not be ignored as they have an important and effective role and represent half the population.”


Syrian journalist claims torture, humiliation at hands of Turkish forces while crossing border

Updated 20 sec ago
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Syrian journalist claims torture, humiliation at hands of Turkish forces while crossing border

LONDON: A Syrian journalist has claimed on his YouTube channel that he has been assaulted and beaten by Turkish forces on the Syria-Turkey border.
Mazen Al-Shami posted a video to the social media network and also posted on Facebook, saying: “After nine years of the revolution, that is how my family and I are treated.
“A Turkish officer tortured me in front of my family and tortured my children on the Syria-Turkey border, it was his reaction when he found out I was a Syrian journalist.”
Al-Shami ended the post with the hashtags #Thank_You_Turkey and #Thank_You_Hotel_Opposition with a number of photos containing the injuries sustained by him and his son as a result of the assault.
According to Al-Shami in his video, he was arrested with two of his children along with other civilians as they tried to cross the border into Turkey from the Syrian Idlib region.
The Association of Syrian Journalists, which represents journalists opposed to the Bashar Assad regime, quoted Al-Shami as saying: “The opposition did not respond to my request to enter Turkey for a follow-up to my medical treatment.”
The association added that Al-Shami was beaten and severely tortured with “metal rods, iron chains and agricultural hand tools.”
Hundreds of Syrian activists have responded to the incident, saying the officer responsible must be held accountable and that the Turkish army is constantly targeting civilians trying to cross the border from Syria.
In a recent report, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that 419 Syrian civilians – among them 75 children and 38 women – have been killed trying to cross the border since the start of the country’s ongoing conflict.