10 of Al-Aqsa guards detained after altercation with Israeli archaeologist

Israeli forces detained 10 security guards of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem on Monday, after they prevented an Israeli archaeologist from trying to remove an old stone from the religious compound.

The altercation occurred on Monday morning after the guards intervened as the Israeli archaeologist, escorted by an Israeli police officer, entered the Al-Aqsa compound and tried to take a stone from an underground section below the al-Qibli mosque in the compound.

The archaeologist was removed from the area, which is closed to the public, but later tried to re-enter via the underground Marwani prayer hall, when the security guards once again rejected him.

Al-Aqsa compound director Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani said on Tuesday that the guards had only done their job, according to Ma’an.

“They did not commit any offenses warranting being detained and assaulted near the Council Gate after Israeli forces caused troubles,” he said.

Al-Kiswani said that Israeli forces detained three guards in the morning, while seven others were detained after Israeli police raided their homes later that afternoon. He identified the guards as Luay Abu al-Saad, Salman Abu Mayyala, Hamza Nimr, Arafat Najib, Ahed Judah, Muhammad Idriss, Samir al-Qabbani, Qasim Kamal, Usama Siyam, and Khalil al-Tarhouni.

Five of the guards were released after questioning, while five others remained in custody as of Tuesday morning.

Jerusalem-based Fatah leader Rafaat Elayyan referred to the incident as a “clear message of challenge” to all participants at the upcoming Arab League Summit, to take place Wednesday in Amman, when the Palestinian cause and Israeli violations at holy sites in occupied East Jerusalem are expected to be a top priority on the agenda.

Tensions around Al-Aqsa Mosque were a main contributor to increasing unrest that began in October 2015, after right-wing Israelis made frequent visits to the site during the Jewish high holiday season.

The third holiest site in Islam, Al-Aqsa is also venerated as Judaism’s most holy place, as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood.

While Jewish visitation is permitted to the compound, non-Muslim worship is prohibited according to an agreement signed between Israel and the Jordanian government after Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.

Despite this agreement, the Israeli authorities regularly allow Jewish visitors to enter the site — often under armed guard. Such visits are typically made by right-wingers attempting to unsettle the status quo at the site, and coincide with restrictions on Palestinian access, including bans on entrance and detentions.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces have detained and even assaulted Al-Aqsa security guards on a number of occasions.