Waqf defies Israeli court order to close al-Aqsa Mosque gate
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Waqf defies Israeli court order to close al-Aqsa Mosque gate

Sheikh Abdel Azeem Salhab, head of the Islamic Waqf (Endowment) organization, stressed on Tuesday that the court’s decision does not apply to the al-Aqsa Mosque. “It is our right, religious and contractual to access the Golden Gate and keep this door open for Muslims to pray,” he said in a statement issued after an emergency meeting of the organization seated in Jordan, which is the custodian of the holy sites in occupied Jerusalem al-Quds. “We will not respond to courts of the occupation regarding the issue of Bab al-Rahma and Al-Aqsa Mosque and it [does not have authority over the matter],” he added. Israel closed Bab al-Rahma in 2003, alleging that it had turned into a place for political activities against the Tel Aviv regime. For the first time in 16 years, the Islamic Waqf defied Israel’s ban and re-opened the gates to Palestinian worshipers last month. Angered by the move, Israel has been engaged in an arrest campaign against the Palestinians joining prayers in the premises of Bab al-Rahma. Last month, Israeli authorities arrested 229 Palestinians and banned 133 others, among them was Salhab, from entering the al-Aqsa Mosque, according to a report by the al-Quds-based Wadi Hilweh Information Center. On Monday, an Israeli court said it would order the closure of Bab al-Rahma unless the Islamic Waqf responds within a week to a request to shut the area. Elsewhere in his remarks, Salhab demanded that Israel permit the Waqf to renovate Baba al-Rahma and revoke orders banning dozens of the organization’s officials, guards and worshipers from the site. Palestinians have long been wary of Israeli attempts to change the status quo of al-Aqsa Mosque, which is Islam’s third holiest site and where only Muslim prayers are allowed under the status quo reaffirmed in 1967 between Israel and Jordan. The holy compound is administered by the Islamic Waqf endowment on behalf of Jordan and Palestine. Non-Muslims can visit the site, but cannot pray there. The status quo also coincided with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel’s declaration in 1967 that Jews are not allowed to the compound as it would desecrate the site's holiness. However, Israeli settlers, escorted by the regime’s military, frequently desecrate the site by forecfully entering and praying there. Palestinians call for mass protests Meanwhile, Adnan Gheith, the Palestinian Authority’s governor of the occupied Jerusalem al-Quds, has called on the Palestinian people to converge on the Haram al-Sharif, known by Jews as Temple Mount, to protest the recent Israeli measures. Barring Palestinian officials and activists from Bab al-Rahma is part of an Israeli scheme to divide the Haram al-Sharif and “Judaize” al-Quds, he added. Hamas official Hussam Badran also called for anti-Israeli demonstrations in the coming days. “Next Friday will be a new day in Jerusalem (al-Quds) during which the Palestinians will prove to Israel that the holy sites are Arab, Islamic and Palestinian,” he said. “There is no room for Israeli sovereignty over these sites.” Moreover, a senior Palestinian official in Ramallah slammed Tel Aviv for seeking to “undermine” the authority of the Waqf organization in a bid to establish a section for the Jews at the Haram al-Sharif. “This is a very dangerous precedent,” he told the Jerusalem Post. In a similar stance, the Popular National Conference for Jerusalem al-Quds urged the Palestinians to take to the streets to condemn a possible closure of the Bab al-Rahma. “We don’t need statements of condemnation,” the group said in a leaflet distributed in East Jerusalem al-Quds. “We need practical steps on the ground to safeguard the religious, political and historical heritage of our capital from the guillotine of the occupation.”

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