AMMAN: Israeli military forces on Friday bowed to pressure from Jewish settlers and silenced the call to prayer at the historic Ibrahimi Mosque in the West Bank city of Hebron.
Despite a declaration from the Palestinian Authority of an end to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown and the opening of mosques and churches in Palestinian territories, attempts were made to enforce Israeli health regulations on worshippers.
Sheikh Hafez Abu Sneneh, imam of the UNESCO-protected Hebron mosque, told Arab News: “Shortly after the muezzin, Siraj Sharif, began calling the worshippers to prayer, Jewish extremists began banging on the walls and eventually, Israeli soldiers acquiesced to their demands and forced the muezzin to stop his call for prayer midway through.”
He said worshippers arriving for Friday prayers were met by army personnel trying to impose Israeli rules restricting religious gatherings of more than 50 people in the same location.
“We follow the Palestinian Ministry of Health regulations which have allowed regular prayers in all West Bank mosques on condition that preventative health requirements of physical separation are applied. We daily disinfect the mosque and worshippers are required to wear masks and stay apart from each other,” he said.
Issa Amro, a human rights campaigner in Hebron, told Arab News that the Israeli move was in violation of the Hebron agreement and its protocols.
“The protocol that regulates prayer at the Ibrahimi Mosque is very clear that the Palestinian Islamic Waqf department is responsible for issues regarding the mosque and prayers at it,” Amro said.
However, despite efforts by Israeli soldiers to limit the number of worshippers to 50, more than 200 managed to gain entry to the mosque for noon prayers, Abu Sneneh said.
“This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Israelis have no right to change the rules and procedures at the mosque,” he added.
Israeli military officials were unavailable for comment.
Tareq Kayyal, a photojournalist with the German DPA news agency, told Arab News that Friday’s prayers had coincided with the Jewish holiday of shavuot.
Amro said: “We (Palestinians) need to be united, hold proper elections and reform the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) so we can stand up to the occupiers.”
In a separate incident, Israeli security in Jerusalem arrested Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, the preacher of Al-Aqsa Mosque and a member of the Jerusalem Islamic Council, outside his home. He was seen in Facebook posts at the scene saying, “we are with Al-Aqsa and will always be defending.”
No reason has yet been given for Sabri’s arrest.
The Islamic Waqf had announced that worshippers would be invited to pray at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque starting at dawn on Sunday.