Two Palestinians killed as 200,000 gather for Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem

1 / 3
Women cool themselves down in a stream of water as Palestinians gather for the Friday prayer at Al Aqsa mosque. (AFP)
2 / 3
Palestinians pray at Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem for the last Friday prayers of Ramadan. (AFP)
3 / 3
Security has been stepped up across Jerusalem during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. (Reuters)
Updated 31 May 2019

Two Palestinians killed as 200,000 gather for Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem

  • Palestinian teenager stabs two Israelis inside the Old City before being shot dead by Israeli security
  • Another teenager shot dead in the occupied West Bank as he tried to cross into Jerusalem to attend prayers

JERUSALEM: Two Palestinians were killed as more than 200,000 Muslims took part in the final Friday prayers of Ramadan at Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City of annexed east Jerusalem, as Israel heightened security.
The religious authority in charge of the compound, the third holiest site in Islam, said in total 260,000 worshippers took part in the lunchtime prayers.
The prayers came only hours after a Palestinian teenager stabbed two Israelis inside the Old City before being shot dead by Israeli security.
In a separate incident, another Palestinian teenager was shot dead by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank as he sought to sneak into Jerusalem, reportedly to pray at Al-Aqsa.
In Jerusalem itself, a 19-year-old Palestinian stabbed one Israeli near the Damascus Gate and another near Jaffa Gate on the other side of the walled Old City, police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said.
One of the Israelis was in a critical condition and the other suffered serious wounds, he said.
“Police units that responded at the scene saw the attacker with a knife. The attacker was shot and killed,” Rosenfeld said.
The Palestinian health ministry later named him as Yusef Wajih from Abwein village in the central West Bank.
A video released by police showed a man running through the streets and stabbing two Orthodox Jews.
The Old City has been the scene of numerous stabbings of Israelis by Palestinian assailants in recent years, though a relative calm has existed for several months.
After the latest attack, gates to the Old City were briefly sealed before being reopened as thousands thronged toward the mosque.
Inside the mostly uncovered mosque compound, water was sprayed on worshippers to keep them cool in the baking Jerusalem sun, with temperatures approaching 40 degrees.
Despite a heavy police presence, there were no reports of further incidents.
Rosenfeld said increased security presence would “continue throughout the afternoon and evening.”
The Al-Aqsa mosque compound is a key religious and political symbol for Palestinians. It is also sacred for Jews, who refer to it at the Temple Mount.
The attack came just two days before Israelis hold a major march to mark Jerusalem Day, the annual commemoration of the capture of east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967.
It was later annexed in a move not recognized by the international community.
In December 2017, US President Donald Trump broke with decades of bipartisan policy to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in a move that prompted the Palestinians to cut all contacts with his administration.
Israel insists the whole of Jerusalem is its “eternal, indivisible capital.” The Palestinians demand the city’s eastern sector as the capital of their long promised state.
On Thursday evening, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem as part of a Middle East tour before Washington unveils its long-awaited plan for Israel-Palestinian peace.
Kushner, accompanied by Trump envoy Jason Greenblatt, arrived in Jerusalem after earlier stops in Morocco and Jordan.
He is a key architect of the peace plan that the White House says it intends to present in the coming weeks.
But the plan, previously delayed for an Israeli general election on April 9, could face further postponements due to Israeli politics.
Israel is set to hold another general election in September after Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government, and the plan is widely seen as too sensitive an issue to introduce during a political campaign.
The Palestinian leadership has rejected the peace plan without seeing it, saying Trump has shown himself to be blatantly biased in favor of Israel.
They cite moves including declaring the disputed city of Jerusalem Israel’s capital and cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian aid.
Trump has also handed Netanyahu other diplomatic coups, notably US recognition of Israel’s 1981 annexation of the strategic Golan Heights captured from Syria in the Six-Day War.
On Thursday, Kushner delivered Netanyahu a gift from Trump, a map of Israel signed and approvingly annotated by the US president showing the Golan as inside the Jewish state’s borders.
 


Leader of banned charity leader seeks asylum from Turkey amid Macron-Erdogan row

Updated 9 min 26 sec ago

Leader of banned charity leader seeks asylum from Turkey amid Macron-Erdogan row

  • Sihamedi, the founder of the BarakaCity NGO, claimed that he no longer felt safe in France

ANKARA: The prospect of granting asylum to Idriss Sihamedi, the founder of a Muslim charity that has been shut down in France over his alleged ties to the “radical Islamist movement,” stirred debate about the potential repercussions amid the already escalating French-Turkish spat.

The Turkish interior ministry announced on Oct. 29 that Ankara will assess Sihamedi’s request for himself and his team after receiving his official application.

Sihamedi, the founder of the BarakaCity NGO, claimed that he no longer felt safe in France. His NGO was closed officially on Oct. 28 on the grounds that it “incites hate, has relations with the radical Islamist movement and justifies terrorist acts.”

He posted his asylum request on his official Twitter account in both French and Turkish, tagging Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He also alleged he had received death threats.

His post received a quick reply from the Turkish interior ministry’s migration management department: “Hello Sihamedi. If you and your colleagues were to personally apply to our institution with your surname, first name, identity information, petition for an asylum request and your passport number, your request will be assessed.”

However, experts think that proceeding with the asylum request of such radicals means playing with fire.

“I think Erdogan is continuing to play a dangerous game by courting relationships with radical figures and in some cases jihadists,” Colin Clarke, senior research fellow on terror-financing networks at the Soufan Center, told Arab News. “Turkey is already viewed as a hot spot for jihadists given its proximity to Iraq and Syria.”

Sihamedi is accused of inciting hatred, encouraging people to violent acts, maintaining relations within the radical Islamist movement, money laundering in the name of Salafi organisations and expressing support for Hitler and the Nazis. He is also blamed for organizing suicide attacks and supporting Daesh.

According to Clarke, if Turkey grants asylum to Sihamedi and his team, it may create trouble, both domestically but also with NATO allies.

“Moving forward with actions like this could easily backfire on Turkey and cause considerable blowback. I find these overt flirtations with radical Islamists counterproductive and short-sighted,” he said.

Sihamedi was deported from Turkey last year in May at France’s request and his passport was confiscated at Istanbul airport.

BarakaCity was founded in 2010 in Evry-Courcouronnes (Essonne). The Islamic humanitarian NGO has been closely monitored by French intelligence since 2014. Its buildings were raided several times in 2015 and 2017, and it was investigating for “terrorist financing” and “terrorist criminal association” for three years.

The NGO has said it wants to move its headquarters to another country. At a time when relations between Paris and Ankara are more strained than ever, the Turkish branch of the NGO is headed by a Franco-Turkish national known for his Salafi credentials.

“The French government dissolved BarakaCity also because in the past the NGO received money from Samy Amimour, a member of the Bataclan terrorist commando group in  2015, and from Larossi Abballa, who in 2016 killed a policeman and his wife in Magnanville,” said Matteo Pugliese, associate research fellow at Milan-based think tank ISPI.

“According to the French government, BarakaCity provides a sort of ideological justification for violent radicals, especially when it calls for the punishment of those who publish cartoons or criticize Islam. I think that we are talking about a grey zone, where non-violent extremism meets violent radicalization.”

Sihamedi was released under judicial supervision and is due to face trial in December.

French government also announced plans to dissolve other associations suspected of supporting extremist ideologies.

“If Turkey grants asylum to Sihamedi, France will use this to accuse the country of sheltering Islamists who radicalize people with online propaganda,” Pugliese said. “This is part of the verbal escalation between Macron and Erdogan and will be used by both for political internal goals.”