Palestinians fear Al-Aqsa closure following attack could affect status quo at holy site

Following a deadly shooting attack in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem on Friday that left two Israeli police officers and three Palestinians dead, Israeli forces imposed widespread closures on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and wider Jerusalem area, sparking widespread condemnation from Palestinian officials who called the moves “terrorist procedures.”

Hundreds of Israeli soldiers were deployed across streets around the Old City, preventing people from entering or leaving the area, while dozens of mainly elderly Muslim worshipers were pushed away from the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and the Old City.

Unable to access Al-Aqsa, worshipers performed Friday prayer in the streets and alleyways leading to the compound inside the Old City.

Firas al-Dibs, Head of the Public Relations and Media department at the Islamic Endowment (Waqf) — which administers the compound — told Ma’an that dozens of Israeli soldiers and intelligence officers raided and completely surrounded Al-Aqsa following the armed confrontations, which took place at the Lions’ Gate entrance to the Old City — where the two police officers, both Druze citizens of Israel were killed — and ended inside the compound where the three Palestinians, also citizens of Israel, were shot and killed.

Al-Dibs said that Israeli forces prevented Muslims from reaching the mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, while employees of the Waqf were detained for interrogation and had their ID cards confiscated.

Al-Aqsa compound director Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani told Ma’an that Israeli forces banned Waqf employees from entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque and detained 15 of the mosque’s guards.

The grand mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, told Ma’an that Israeli forces had prevented him from entering Al-Aqsa from multiple entrances on Friday.

Hussein told Ma’an that it was the first time that Israel had prevented Muslims from performing Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa since 1967.

“We insist on reaching the Al-Aqsa Mosque and performing prayers there,” Hussein told Ma’an. “The occupation preventing us from praying marks an assault against our right to worship in this pure Islamic mosque.”

A witness who was at the scene told Ma’an that Israeli forces held some 60 Muslim worshipers who were in the area during the attack, interrogated them, and confiscated their ID cards and mobile phones.

The witness added that Israeli forces raided the mosque with shoes on, in violation of the Muslim tradition which mandates that shoes be taken off in places of worship, and emptied out garbage containers in the compound under the claim that they were searching the containers.

Meanwhile, Israeli police spokesperson Luba al-Samri said that police chief Roni al-Sheikh “has conducted a session to evaluate the situation” in Jerusalem given how “dangerous, extreme and exceptional the attack was.”

According to al-Samri, al-Sheikh said that the attack “will have consequences on the international level.”

“Israeli police have imposed a closure on the Al-Aqsa compound and will continue banning worshipers from entering until investigations into the incident and searches in the area in accordance to security requirements are done, in order to maintain public safety and order,” al-Samri said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday to condemn the attack, also reportedly requested that Netanyahu stop Israeli procedures and closures at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, warning that if such procedures continued, they would lead to consequences that will change the historical and religious status of Al-Aqsa Mosque, according to Wafa news agency.

Following Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has maintained a compromise with the Islamic trust that controls the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to not allow non-Muslim prayers in the area. However, non-Muslims are permitted to visit the site during designated times.

Israeli forces nonetheless regularly escort Jewish visitors to the compound, who often carry out Jewish religious rituals and prayers at the site, leading to tensions with Palestinian worshipers.

Palestinians have long feared that Israel has been attempting to shake up the status quo at the holy site, in the shape of routine Jewish incursions on the site and right-wing Israeli calls to demolish the mosque and replace it with a third Jewish temple.

However, according to Wafa, which is owned by the Palestinian Authority (PA), Netanyahu confirmed to Abbas that the status quo at Al-Aqsa mosque would remain in place.

Al-Samri also said in a statement “there will be no changes to the status quo of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and everything will remain the same.”

Wafa added that “the Palestinian presidency has also conducted calls with the Jordanian kingdom to work on ending the Israeli closure of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

PA spokesperson Tariq Rishmawi called the closures and ban on worshipers “terrorist procedures” that will “obstruct all international efforts, especially American efforts, to revive peace.”

Rishmawi called upon the international community to immediately intervene “and stop the Israeli occupation from committing more crimes against the Palestinian people and their holy sites.”

“Israeli persistence in committing crimes against the Palestinian people will not stop the Palestinian government from conducting all efforts to reinforce the determination of the Palestinian people in all districts, and especially in East Jerusalem, which will remain the eternal capital for the independent state of Palestine,” Rishmawi said.