Palestinians concerned about Israeli draft bill to divide Al-Aqsa Mosque

Palestinians concerned about Israeli draft bill to divide Al-Aqsa Mosque
The Al-Aqsa compound has come under increased attacks and repeated raids by ultra right-wing settlers in recent years. (AFP)
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Updated 12 June 2023
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Palestinians concerned about Israeli draft bill to divide Al-Aqsa Mosque

Palestinians concerned about Israeli draft bill to divide Al-Aqsa Mosque
  • PM Mohammed Shtayyeh warns Israeli authorities against submitting Amit Halevi bill to Knesset  
  • Netanyahu using Al-Aqsa issue to gain political victories, top Palestinian official warns

RAMALLAH: Palestinians are deeply concerned about a draft law being discussed in the Israeli Parliament to divide Al-Aqsa Mosque and aim to request the support of Turkiye, Malaysia, Indonesia and Egypt to prevent the law from being implemented.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh warned Israeli authorities against submitting the bill, proposed by Likud party member Amit Halevi, to the Israeli Knesset in the coming days.

His remarks came at the beginning of the Cabinet session in Ramallah.

Taking this step, he said, would result in “overwhelming anger,” the consequences of which “cannot be predicted because of the sanctity and religious value of Al-Aqsa Mosque for the Palestinian people, Arabs and Muslims.”

He called for Arab, Islamic and international action that goes beyond condemnation and instead imposes sanctions that would prevent any change to Al-Aqsa Mosque and stop any violation of Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.

The draft bill seeks to divide Al-Aqsa Mosque between Muslims and Jews.

Halevi has proposed allocating the area stretching from the courtyard of the Dome of the Rock to the end of the northern border of Al-Aqsa Mosque to the Jews.

Palestinians are concerned that the plan represents only the beginning of a large and dangerous project that will transform the Palestinian-Israeli political conflict into a religious war, leading to widespread violence in the Palestinian territories. 

Palestine and Jordan, which has custodianship of the Islamic and Christian holy sites, oppose any interference or change by the Israeli authorities inside Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Ahmed Al-Ruwaidi, the presidential adviser on Jerusalem affairs, decried the plan as another Israeli attempt to impose control on Jerusalem and annex East Jerusalem as a part of Israel.

Al-Ruwaidi told Arab News that the right-wing Israeli government is seeking to reduce the Palestinian role in Jerusalem by targeting Palestinian institutions and figures, as well as the Hashemite guardianship over Islamic and Christian holy sites. 

Al-Aqsa Mosque is a sacred place for Muslims alone, and Israel must respect Jordanian guardianship over it, Al-Ruwaidi told Arab News.

He said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had given the green light to Israeli far-right activists such as Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich to storm Al-Aqsa and make racist statements.

Netanyahu is using the Al-Aqsa Mosque issue to gain political victories, Al-Ruwaidi said, warning that if a religious war erupts, everyone will suffer its impacts.

Palestinians say that the bill to divide Al-Aqsa Mosque would change its Islamic identity and confine it solely to the Al-Qibli prayer hall, similarly to the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, which also was divided, allotting 75 percent of the space for Jewish worshippers and the remaining 25 percent for Muslims.

In his plan, Halevi has proposed what Palestinians say is an upheaval of the status quo and will result in expanding Israeli control over the mosque.

The draft law would allow Jews to enter the complex from all gates, rather than exclusively through the Moroccan Gate, which is the only gate that is under the full control of Israeli authorities and which no Palestinians can access.

In another development, the Ministerial Committee for Legislative Affairs in the Israeli Knesset has approved a bill that aims to collect fines imposed by military courts in the West Bank on Palestinians and traffic fines collected by the Israeli police and transfer them to the treasury of the Israeli government.

The Knesset Plenum is likely to vote on the bill soon.


UK’s top bishop cancels meeting with Bethlehem pastor to avoid angering British Jews: Report

UK’s top bishop cancels meeting with Bethlehem pastor to avoid angering British Jews: Report
Updated 7 sec ago
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UK’s top bishop cancels meeting with Bethlehem pastor to avoid angering British Jews: Report

UK’s top bishop cancels meeting with Bethlehem pastor to avoid angering British Jews: Report
  • Munther Isaac says Justin Welby’s aides warned him against sharing platform with Jeremy Corbyn at rally
  • ‘It’s shameful. This sums up the Church of England. They lack the courage to say things’

LONDON: The UK’s archbishop of Canterbury canceled plans to meet Munther Isaac, the Bethlehem-based pastor who has criticized Israel’s war on Gaza, for fear of angering Britain’s Jewish community, The Guardian reported on Wednesday.

Justin Welby, the senior bishop of the Church of England, rejected the meeting after Isaac shared a platform with former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn at a pro-Palestinian rally last weekend, the Lutheran pastor and theologian said.

Corbyn, who led the party in opposition for five years from 2015 to 2020, has been a prominent critic of Israeli policies.

He withdrew from the leadership in part due to controversy surrounding alleged antisemitism within the party.

Isaac has been highly critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza, and a Christmas sermon he delivered last year went viral.

He was invited to speak at the Palestine Solidarity Campaign rally last week by Husam Zomlot, Palestinian ambassador to the UK.

Isaac told The Guardian that Welby’s aides had informed him that no meeting could take place if he shared a platform with Corbyn.

Isaac said: “It’s shameful. It’s not my type of Christianity not to be willing to meet another pastor because you don’t want to explain why you met him.

“This sums up the Church of England. They danced around positions, and ended up saying nothing. They lack the courage to say things.”

Welby is thought to be concerned with rising antisemitism in the UK, and is balancing condemnation of Israel with avoiding outrage among Britain’s Jewish community.

He feared a meeting with Isaac would have caused “huge problems” for British Jews, The Guardian reported.

Lambeth Palace, Welby’s official residence, declined to comment on the matter when asked by The Guardian.

Isaac said: “The small Christian community in Gaza has discovered what is hell on earth. Most of them have lost their homes: 45 destroyed completely and 55 partially destroyed.

“There is no life left for them. This war will most likely bring an end to Christian life in Gaza. Everyone wants to leave.

“It is so painful for us to see the Christian church turn a blind eye to what is happening, offering words of concern and compassion, but for so long they have been silent in the face of obvious war crimes.

“Churches seem paralyzed, and they seem willing to sacrifice the Christian presence in Palestine for the sake of avoiding controversy and not criticizing Israel. I have had so many difficult conversations with church leaders.”

Isaac added: “I know from meeting many church leaders that in private, they say one thing, and then in public, they say another thing. I’ve had the same experience with many politicians and diplomats.”


Italy arrests 12 people over speed boat migrant trips from Tunisia

Italy arrests 12 people over speed boat migrant trips from Tunisia
Updated 21 February 2024
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Italy arrests 12 people over speed boat migrant trips from Tunisia

Italy arrests 12 people over speed boat migrant trips from Tunisia
  • The traffickers transferred relatively small groups of up to 20 people on each of four trips, charging fees of up to 6,000 euros per person
  • The trip, on a crowded and less seaworthy vessel, would normally cost under 1,000 euros per migrant

ROME: Italian police said on Wednesday they had arrested 12 suspected human traffickers for allegedly organizing high-speed transfers for at least 73 illegal migrants from Tunisia to Europe.
Expert pilots operated the speed boats crossing from Tunisia to Marsala in Sicily between June and September last year, police said in a statement, describing them as “VIP trips.”
The traffickers transferred relatively small groups of up to 20 people on each of four trips, charging fees of up to 6,000 euros ($6,500) per person, the statement said.
The trip, on a crowded and less seaworthy vessel, would normally cost under 1,000 euros per migrant, an official with knowledge of the matter said.
Italy and other European governments have taken an increasingly
hard line
on immigration in recent years amid a surge of arrivals of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants. EU data shows fewer than 100,000 irregular migrants made to it Europe in 2020, but that rose to 250,000 last year.
Six Tunisians and six Italians were detained as part of an investigation coordinated by European police body Europol and the Italian anti-mafia police unit.
The investigators identified a Tunisian former police officer as the head of the trafficking organization.
They also held 19 illegal migrants and arrested eight Tunisian boat operators last year during the initial part of the investigation. Four of the boat crew were also charged over firing naval flares at a military vessel during an attempt to evade being apprehended by authorities.
Since the beginning of the year, 4,247 illegal migrants have landed on Italy’s shores, data from the home affairs ministry shows. That is down from more than 12,500 at the same stage in 2023, when Italy recorded unprecedented pressure from the number of people trying to reach Europe.
Tunisia has replaced Libya as North Africa’s main departure point for people fleeing poverty and conflict elsewhere in Africa and across the Middle East in the hope of a better life in Europe.
This month, 17 migrants coming from Tunisia went missing during their sea voyage and at least nine died in two separate accidents.


Hunger grips war-torn Gaza as truce talks resume in Cairo

Hunger grips war-torn Gaza as truce talks resume in Cairo
Updated 21 February 2024
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Hunger grips war-torn Gaza as truce talks resume in Cairo

Hunger grips war-torn Gaza as truce talks resume in Cairo
  • Top White House official Brett McGurk in Cairo for renewed talks involving mediators and Hamas
  • UN WFP halted aid deliveries in north Gaza because of “complete chaos and violence”

GAZA: Heavy fighting rocked besieged Gaza on Wednesday as aid agencies warned of looming famine, a day after a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire was blocked by a US veto.
Washington, which argued the resolution would have imperilled ongoing efforts to free hostages, sent top White House official Brett McGurk to Cairo for renewed talks involving mediators and Hamas.
Global concern has spiralled over the high civilian death toll and dire humanitarian crisis in the war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack against Israel.
Combat and chaos again stalled the sporadic aid deliveries for desperate civilians in Gaza, where the UN has warned the population of 2.4 million is on the brink of famine and could face an “explosion” of child deaths.
The UN World Food Programme said it was forced to halt aid deliveries in north Gaza because of “complete chaos and violence” after a truck convoy encountered gunfire and was ransacked by looters.
More Israeli strikes pounded Gaza, leaving 103 people dead during the night, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory, which put the overall death toll at 29,313.
“We can’t take it anymore,” said Ahmad, a resident of Gaza City, where entire blocks are in ruins and cratered streets are strewn with rubble.
“We do not have flour, we don’t even know where to go in this cold weather,” he said. “We demand a ceasefire. We want to live.”
Particular concern has centered on Gaza’s far-southern Rafah area, where 1.4 million people now live in crowded shelters and makeshift tents, fearing attack by nearby Israeli ground troops.
Aid groups warn a ground offensive could turn Rafah into a “graveyard” and the United States has said the vast numbers of displaced civilians must first be moved out of harm’s way.
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that “without properly accounting for the safety and security of those refugees, we continue to believe that an operation in Rafah would be a disaster.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted the army will keep fighting until it has destroyed Hamas and freed the remaining 130 hostages, around 30 of whom are feared dead.
War cabinet minister Benny Gantz has warned that, unless Hamas releases the captives by the start of Ramadan around March 10, the army will keep fighting during the Muslim holy month, including in Rafah.
Humanitarian crisis
The war started when Hamas launched its unprecedented attack on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli figures.
Hamas also took about 250 hostages, many of whom were released during a week-long truce in late November.
Israel has heavily bombed Gaza and launched a ground invasion that has seen troops and tanks push through from the north toward the south, leaving vast swathes entirely destroyed.
The World Health Organization called the devastation “indescribable” around Nasser Hospital in the southern city of Khan Yunis, where it said it managed to evacuate some 32 patients.
“The area was surrounded by burnt and destroyed buildings, heavy layers of debris, with no stretch of intact road,” WHO said.
The clinic has no power or running water, it added, and “medical waste and garbage are creating a breeding ground for disease.”
Major powers have tried to navigate a way out of the crisis, so far without success.
On Tuesday the UN Security Council voted on an Algeria-drafted resolution which demanded an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the release of all hostages.
The United States vetoed the resolution, which it labelled “wishful and irresponsible,” drawing strong criticism from China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and even close ally France.
Hamas said the US veto amounted to “a green light for the occupation to commit more massacres.”
Ongoing negotiations
Washington sent McGurk, the White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, to Egypt as part of efforts to advance a hostage deal, before he heads to Israel Thursday.
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh was already in Cairo for talks, the militant group said — days after mediators warned that prospects for a truce had dimmed despite repeated talks.
Qatar and Egypt have proposed a plan to free hostages in return for a pause in fighting and the release of Palestinian prisoners, but Israel and Hamas have so far failed to agree on a deal.
McGurk will hold talks “to see if we can’t get this hostage deal in place,” Kirby told reporters.
As the bloodiest ever Gaza war has continued into a fifth month, Israel has faced a growing international chorus of criticism.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro accused Israel of “genocide” after Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had compared the Gaza campaign to the Holocaust.
The war has set off clashes elsewhere in the Middle East, drawing in Iran-backed armed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
Israel has traded almost daily cross-border fire with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and US and British forces have hit Yemen’s Houthi rebels to deter their attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.
In Syria, state television said an Israeli missile strike killed at least two people in Damascus, a claim Israel declined to comment on.
Violence has also flared in the occupied West Bank where the Israeli army said its troops killed three Palestinian militants during an overnight raid in the northern city of Jenin.


Israeli airstrike kills woman and child in south Lebanon

Israeli airstrike kills woman and child in south Lebanon
Updated 21 February 2024
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Israeli airstrike kills woman and child in south Lebanon

Israeli airstrike kills woman and child in south Lebanon
  • Woman and girl were killed in the strike in Majdal Zoun

BEIRUT: An Israeli strike killed a woman and a child in south Lebanon on Wednesday, sources in Lebanon said, days after Hezbollah vowed to inflict a price on Israel for killing civilians in the conflict across the Israeli-Lebanese border.
The woman and girl were killed in the strike in Majdal Zoun, a village some 6 km (4 miles) from the border, according to two security sources and a medical source.
The Iran-backed movement Hezbollah has been trading fire with Israel since the Oct. 7 attack by its Palestinian ally Hamas on southern Israel, in a campaign Hezbollah says aims to support Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
A statement from Israeli army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Avichay Adraee on X said the Israeli army had carried out an attack on “a military building” in the village of Yaroun in southern Lebanon, and that Israeli warplanes had launched raids on three Hezbollah operational headquarters in the south.
It did not mention Majdal Zoun, which is about an hour’s drive from Yaroun.
Hezbollah signalled on Friday it would escalate attacks on Israel in response to the deaths of 10 Lebanese civilians killed in Israeli attacks last week.
Hezbollah announced more than half a dozen attacks on Israeli positions on Wednesday.
Israeli strikes since Oct. 8 have killed some 50 civilians in Lebanon, in addition to nearly 200 Hezbollah fighters.
Attacks from Lebanon into Israel have killed a dozen Israeli troops and five civilians.
The violence has uprooted tens of thousands of people on both sides of the border.


Israel’s parliament backs Netanyahu’s opposition to ‘unilateral’ creation of Palestinian state

Israel’s parliament backs Netanyahu’s opposition to ‘unilateral’ creation of Palestinian state
Updated 21 February 2024
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Israel’s parliament backs Netanyahu’s opposition to ‘unilateral’ creation of Palestinian state

Israel’s parliament backs Netanyahu’s opposition to ‘unilateral’ creation of Palestinian state
  • Israel say permanent accord with the Palestinians would have to be reached through direct negotiations, and not by international dictates

JERUSALEM: Israel’s parliament voted on Wednesday to back Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration opposing the ‘unilateral’ creation of Palestinian state, following growing international calls for the revival of efforts to reach a two state solution to the decades-long conflict.
Netanyahu’s Likud party said in a statement that 99 of 120 lawmakers voted to support the declaration passed earlier this week by the cabinet.
The Israeli position also says that any permanent accord with the Palestinians would have to be reached through direct negotiations between the sides, and not by international dictates.