AMMAN: Israel has banned a respected and senior Jerusalem cleric from entering Al-Aqsa Mosque and its compound for a further four months.
Sheikh Ekrima Sabri is the imam at Islam’s third holiest mosque and is also the former mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine. The 81-year-old cleric has been targeted on numerous occasions by authorities, who accuse him of “incitement” because of his position on preserving the Islamic identity of Al-Aqsa.
Sabri said the Israelis were trying to silence him. “They don’t want anyone to say anything, no matter what it is,” he told Arab News. “They want to gag us from speaking our mind. I will consult with my lawyers and will decide our next steps.”
He rejected the idea of using Israeli courts to address the issue.
Sabri told the Palestinian news agency WAFA that Israeli police had come to his house in East Jerusalem and handed him the order, which he described as “arbitrary and illegal.”
“There is no state in the world that uses expulsion except this occupa- tion state that wants to silence and muzzle us so as not to object to its belligerent schemes,” he added.
The Islamic Waqf Council denounced what it called an illegal decision against a religious figure. It insisted that Muslims alone had the right to all 144 dunums of the mosque area, including its build- ings, yards and roads leading to it. One dunum is the equivalent of 1,000 square meters.
“No one has the right to ban any Muslim from reaching Al-Aqsa Mosque to pray and to conduct their religious duties,” the waqf state- ment added.
A Jerusalem source said there had been a police leadership decision a few months ago to be more assertive. “Sheikh Sabri is simply more vocal compared to other sheikhs, as he has been for years, so police go after him,” the source told Arab News.
Dima Tahboub, a member of the Jordanian parliament from the Islah Bloc, said the ban showed a total lack of respect for the Hashemite custodianship and to the Jordanian Waqf department, which manages the mosque.
“The occupying (Israeli) army and the settlers continue to enter the mosque uninvited using Bab Al-Mogarbeh (an Israeli-controlled gate leading to the site), yet the staff of the waqf and Jerusalem personalities are being denied entrance,” she told Arab News. “This is a clear
violation of what is called the Wadi Araba agreement, which recognizes Jordan’s role in Jerusalem. They are trying to force a new reality in the mosque and to empty it of its people.”
A day earlier Israeli police dispersed a solidarity protest outside Sabri’s house. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld did not respond to requests for comment.