Jordan’s Waqf welcomes Israeli de-escalation at Al-Aqsa Mosque

Al-Aqsa Mosque
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Updated 15 January 2020

Jordan’s Waqf welcomes Israeli de-escalation at Al-Aqsa Mosque

  • Bab Al-Rahmeh was reopened to worshippers in February 2019

AMMAN: The director of Jerusalem’s Islamic Waqf welcomed Israeli moves to de-escalate tensions surrounding Islam’s third-holiest mosque, but called for a serious and permanent change of policy by Israel.

Sheikh Azzam Khatib — an employee of Jordan’s Waqf in Jerusalem, the Islamic religious trust responsible for the management of the Islamic holy sites around, and including, Al-Aqsa Mosque — told Arab News that certain moves have lessened tensions but serious decisions are still pending. “We welcome the Israeli decision to bring down the scaffolding that has been up for over two years on the walls of Al-Aqsa, but call for the removal of the remaining scaffolding near the Moghrabi gate, which is five times the size of the removed scaffolding.”

Khatib expressed satisfaction at the decision of an Israeli court to reject a request by the pro-settlers right-wing NGO Regavim to reassess the Waqf’s rights over Bab Al-Rahmeh (the Golden Gate). 

Khatib also called on the Israeli police itself to withdraw its own petition to the court, explaining, “The Israeli police have filed a case calling for the closure, again, of Bab Al-Rahmeh on charges that it is used for terroristic actions.”

Jordanian officials also welcomed the decision of the Israeli court, but a senior official — speaking on condition of anonymity — told Arab News that he does not believe the Israelis are fully committed to de-escalation. 

“If they were serious, they would withdraw the case filed against the Waqf on December 29th and remove all the scaffolding,” the source said.

FASTFACT

On Nov. 5, 2014, Israeli police entered Al-Aqsa for the first time since capturing Jerusalem in 1967.

Bab Al-Rahmeh was reopened to worshippers in February 2019, after a 16-year closure initiated by Israel over claims that the area was used for fomenting anti-Israeli sentiment and actions. It has remained open since despite ongoing Israeli efforts to close it.

Nit Hasson, a reporter for the independent Israeli daily Haaretz, told Arab News that he doubts that the Israeli court system will be much help to the Waqf. 

“It is a known tradition that the Israeli courts do not interfere or stand in the way of decisions of the police,” he said.

Hasson said the scaffolding that remains has nothing to do with Muslims or the Waqf, but with the tensions between Orthodox Jews and non-Orthodox Jews. 

“The Orthodox Jews don’t want women having any rights at the (Western Wall), while the non-orthodox — many of whom live in the US — are fighting for the rights of women to have access to (it),” he explained. 

The scaffolding was raised two years ago, when a stone fell near the location earmarked for female Jewish worshipers. 

The scaffolding indirectly blocked that area off, and the Israeli government has kept that part of the scaffolding for internal reasons, according to Hasson. “It is Netanyahu’s way of solving problems,” he said.

The removal of part of the scaffolding on Tuesday came one day after Jordanian Ambassador to Israel Ghassan Majali visited Al-Aqsa Mosque and met with the Jerusalem Waqf Council.


Cyprus: Turkey may have stolen data for latest gas drilling

Updated 32 min 29 sec ago

Cyprus: Turkey may have stolen data for latest gas drilling

  • Cypriot authorities do not have definitive proof
  • It’s believed Turkey got its hands on data that helped guide its drill ship to the specific target

NICOSIA: Turkey may have stolen technical data that enabled it to send a drill ship to a specific location south of Cyprus that energy companies Eni and Total had pre-selected to carry out their own exploratory drilling, a Cypriot official said Wednesday.
Government spokesman Kyriakos Koushos said that although Cypriot authorities do not have definitive proof, it’s believed that Turkey got its hands on data that helped guide its drill ship to the specific target.
The location is in an area, or block, where Cyprus has licensed Italy’s Eni and Total of France to carry out a hydrocarbons search. The two companies are licensed to conduct exploratory drilling in seven of Cyprus’ 13 blocks that make up its exclusive economic zone.
“There’s information, which is probably correct, that they had stolen plans and studies from a specific company, that’s why they went to the specific spot,” Koushos told Greece’s state broadcaster ERT.
The Cypriot official said was not suggesting that either Eni or Total handed Turkey the data.
Koushos repeated that Turkey continues to flout international law by carrying on with illegal drilling activity in Cypriot waters and accused the country of “gunboat diplomacy.”
“Unfortunately, Turkey has become the pirate state of the east Mediterranean,” he said.
This would be the fourth location inside Cyprus’ economic zone that Turkey is looking to drill since July. Turkey has dispatched warship-escorted drill ships to drilling targets to the east and west of the island nation.
Koushos denied a Turkish claim that it’s in secret negotiations with Eni on a hydrocarbons search in the area.
Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides said Wednesday that the European Union is moving to expedite sanctions against individuals or companies involved in illegal drilling off Cyprus.
Turkey insists that it’s acting to protect its interests, and those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots, in the region’s energy reserves. It says part of Cyprus’ economic zone falls within its own continental shelf and that its drilling activities are also part of a deal with Turkish Cypriots.
The US State Department said Washington remains “deeply concerned” over reports that Turkey is moving to drill south of Cyprus, urging Turkish authorities to halt its “provocative step that raises tensions in the region.”
The State Department reiterated US support for Cyprus’ sovereign right to develop resources inside its exclusive economic zone and a deal that would allow Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to equitably share in potential gas riches.
Turkish Cypriots say they’re unfairly being left out of the gas search and are entitled to a share of any revenues. The Cypriot government says the Turkish Cypriots’ share of such wealth is guaranteed under an energy fund into which all future hydrocarbon revenues will flow and will be split after a deal reunifying the island is achieved.
Cyprus was divided along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. A Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence in the island’s northern third is recognized only by Turkey. Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, but only the southern part, seat of the island’s internationally-recognized government, enjoys membership.
Other companies Cyprus has licensed to carry out a hydrocarbons search include ExxonMobil and partner Qatar Petroleum, as well as Texas-based Noble Energy and partners Delek of Israel and Dutch Shell.
So far three gas deposits have been discovered off Cyprus’ southern coastline.