Jewish prayers held discreetly at contested Jerusalem shrine

Jewish prayers held discreetly at contested Jerusalem shrine
The hilltop compound is also home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam. (AP)
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Updated 25 August 2021

Jewish prayers held discreetly at contested Jerusalem shrine

Jewish prayers held discreetly at contested Jerusalem shrine
  • ‘What is happening is a blatant and dangerous violation of the status quo’
  • The hilltop compound is also home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam

JERUSALEM: As police protected them, three Jewish men stepped forward, placed their hands out at chest level and began reciting prayers in low tones in the shadow of Jerusalem’s golden Dome of the Rock.
Jewish prayers at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, were once unthinkable. But they have quietly become the new norm in recent years, flying in the face of longstanding convention, straining a delicate status quo and raising fears that they could trigger a new wave of violence in the Middle East.
“What is happening is a blatant and dangerous violation of the status quo,” said Sheikh Omar Al-Kiswani, a top official with the Waqf, the Jordanian-backed Islamic trust that administers the site. “The Israeli police must stop providing protection to extremists.”
The hilltop compound is the holiest site for Jews, revered as the location of two ancient temples destroyed in antiquity. Three times a day for 2,000 years, Jews have turned to face it during prayers. It also is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.
Israel captured the hilltop, along with the rest of east Jerusalem and the walled Old City, in the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed it, a move that was not recognized by most of the international community. The Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as capital of a future independent state.
The flashpoint site is the emotional epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many rounds of deadly fighting in the decades-long conflict have erupted around it. The most recent was in May, when an Israeli police crackdown on stone-throwing Palestinian protesters inside the mosque helped precipitate an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip and violent upheaval in Israeli cities.
Since 1967, a loose set of rules known as the “status quo” have governed day-to-day operations at the site. Any actual or perceived changes to the status quo has the potential to ignite violence.
For decades, Jews avoided worship at the site for religious reasons. Many leading rabbis, including the country’s Chief Rabbinate, ruled after the 1967 war that Jews “should not enter the entire area of the Temple Mount” out of concern for ritual impurity and uncertainty over the exact location of the ancient Temple’s holy of holies.
But attitudes are changing, particularly among Israel’s hard-line, religious nationalist right wing.
Amnon Ramon, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Policy Research, said the issue of Jewish prayer has transformed in recent decades “from a matter that was on the fringe to a subject in the mainstream for the religious nationalist public.” Most in that community appears to support some degree of Jewish worship there, as do a growing number of ultra-Orthodox Jews.
New Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who leads a small, hard-line religious party, caused an uproar last month on the Jewish fast day of Tisha B’Av when he said Israel was committed to protecting “freedom of worship” for Jews at the compound. His office quickly issued a clarification stating there was “no change whatsoever” in the status quo.
Rabbi Eliyahu Vebr, head of the Temple Mount Yeshiva, said that for over a year, he has entered the site daily, most of the time with at least 10 Jewish men necessary for a group prayer.
“So long as things are not conspicuous, in a way that disturbs, the police allow it,” he said.


Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation

Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation
Updated 6 sec ago

Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation

Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation
  • A Beirut court rejected the last of the suits preventing Tarek Bitar from questioning top officials
BEIRUT: The probe into last year’s deadly Beirut port blast has been cleared to resume after being suspended for more than a month on legal claims against its lead investigator, judge Tarek Bitar, a judicial source said.
A Beirut court rejected the last of the suits preventing Bitar from questioning top officials on Tuesday.
“They have reversed the decision that had led to the suspension of the probe and he can now resume his work for sure,” Nizar Saghieh, head of the Legal Agenda, a research and advocacy organization, told Reuters.
The resumption could be temporary should further legal complaints be filed, he said.
The investigation into the Aug. 4, 2020, blast that killed more than 215 people, injured thousands and destroyed large swathes of the city has made little headway amid pushback from powerful factions, some of whom lead smear campaigns and filed multiple suits against Bitar.
The leader of the Iranian-backed, armed Shiite Muslim political movement Hezbollah has repeatedly said he wanted Bitar removed from the case and the row over him has spilled over into government, with Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s cabinet unable to meet since Oct. 12.
Many Lebanese are angry that more than one year on from the blast no senior official has been held accountable for the country’s worst peace-time disaster as it slips into political and economic meltdown.
Bitar has sought to question senior politicians, including former ministers and members of parliament, since July but nearly all have spurned him.
He is the second judge to take charge of the investigation after a legal complaint against the partiality of his predecessor Fady Sawan saw him removed in February.

Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4

Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4
Updated 07 December 2021

Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4

Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4

BASRA: At least four people were killed and 20 wounded in an explosion in Iraq's southern city of Basra, police and hospital sources told Reuters on Tuesday.
Police are still investigating the cause of the blast, which took place in the city centre, near a main hospital. The explosion set fire to at least one vehicle and damaged a minibus.
One police source said that an initial investigation showed that a motorcycle rigged with explosives could have been the cause of the blast. 


UAE government switches weekend to Saturday-Sunday starting 2022

UAE government switches weekend to Saturday-Sunday starting 2022
Updated 07 December 2021

UAE government switches weekend to Saturday-Sunday starting 2022

UAE government switches weekend to Saturday-Sunday starting 2022
  • The decision is aimed at boosting productivity and improving work-life balance, WAM reported

DUBAI: The UAE government will transition to a four-and-a-half-day working week, with Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday forming the new weekend starting Jan. 1, 2022 for all federal departments, state news agency WAM reported. 
The new system will be applied in all federal government entities with working hours from 7:30 a.m. till 3:30 p.m., it added.
Working hours on Fridays will start at 7:30 a.m. and end at 12 noon, with the possibility of flexible working hours or work from home options during those days. Friday sermons and prayers will be after 1:15 p.m. all year long in the UAE. 
The decision is aimed at boosting productivity and improving work-life balance, WAM reported.


UAE’s new 50-dirham banknote features Sheikh Zayed

UAE’s new 50-dirham banknote features Sheikh Zayed
Updated 07 December 2021

UAE’s new 50-dirham banknote features Sheikh Zayed

UAE’s new 50-dirham banknote features Sheikh Zayed
  • It is the first polymer banknote to be circulated in the country
  • The current 50- dirham note will continue to be used

DUBAI: UAE rulers witnessed the launch of a new 50-dirham banknote on Tuesday, in celebration of the country’s 50th National Day. 
The initiative comes in honor of the UAE’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, and the country’s first generation of rulers to commemorate their dedication and historical role in uniting the country.
It is the first polymer banknote to be circulated in the country.
“We see in this issuance the new phase that UAE will enter, and a renewed pledge to continue its growth path. The occasion also allowed us to express our appreciation and gratitude to our founding fathers by issuing a new AED50 banknote to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the UAE,” said Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Central Bank of the UAE. 
The front of the new banknote features a portrait of the late Sheikh Zayed on the right, and the memorial picture of the founding fathers after signing the union document. 
Meanwhile, the back side includes a picture of the late Sheikh Zayed signing the union agreement as well as illustration of the Etihad Museum, which witnessed the establishment of the union and the raising of the UAE flag for the first time.
According to state news agency WAM, the new banknote will be available in Central Bank branches and ATMs ‘in the near future’.
The current 50- dirham note will continue to be used.
Polymer banknotes are said to be more durable and sustainable than traditional cotton paper banknotes, lasting two or more times longer in circulation. They can also be completely recycled, thus reducing their environmental footprint.


Syria says fires extinguished at Latakia’s port following Israeli ‘aggression’

 Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jets fly over the Mediterranean Sea. (REUTERS file photo)
Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jets fly over the Mediterranean Sea. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 07 December 2021

Syria says fires extinguished at Latakia’s port following Israeli ‘aggression’

 Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jets fly over the Mediterranean Sea. (REUTERS file photo)
  • Israel has mounted frequent attacks against what it has described as Iranian targets in Syria

CAIRO: Fires caused by an Israeli “aggression” at Syria’s Latakia port on Tuesday had been extinguished, leaving material damage, but the status of any casualties was unclear, Syria’s state media reported.

Five explosions rocked the port city after an Israeli “aggression” hit the port’s container yard, sending fire trucks racing to the site, Syrian state TV said.

Israel has mounted frequent attacks against what it has described as Iranian targets in Syria, where Tehran-backed forces including Lebanon’s Hezbollah have deployed over the last decade to support President Bashar Assad.

The Mediterranean port of Latakia is the country’s main port, through which food and other crucial supplies flow into war-torn Syria, and is close to Russia’s main air base of Hmeimim.