image Photo: Flash90

Israel Reaffirms Right to Religious Worship

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued the statement following Arab violence in Jerusalem’s Old City.

By Erin Viner

“Israel is committed to maintaining freedom of worship, free access for all faiths and the ‘Status Quo’ on the Temple Mount, and will not allow violent extremists to change this,” stressed Prime Minister Netanyahu, reiterating the country’s commitment to preserving the right to religious freedom following the latest escalation of violence by Muslim worshippers at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Israeli police entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque before dawn yesterday to evict dozens of masked Arabs who had barricaded themselves inside in an apparent attempt to confront Jewish worshippers on the eve of the Passover festival.

Those inside hurled rocks, shot fireworks and waved clubs at Israeli officers, who attempted to persuade them to leave in a peaceful manner. Riot police were ultimately deployed to remove the masked men.

The “Islamic extremists” not only presented a danger to others at the holy site,” stressed Prime Minister Netanyahu, but they also prevented other Muslims from entering the mosque to pray.

“The security forces were compelled to act in order to restore order after the authorities’ attempts at dialogue failed,” he underscored.

Tensions are particularly on edge this year due to coinciding of the Jewish Passover and Muslim holy month of Ramadan, amid fears that hostilities over escalating Israeli-Palestinian violence could be unleashed at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City. Tens of thousands of Muslims traditionally worship at the mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, throughout the month.

The Islamist Hamas terror organization in Gaza branded the police action an “unprecedented crime” and called on Palestinians in the West Bank “to go en masse to the Al-Aqsa Mosque to defend it.”

In a steep escalation of violence, Hamas terrorists fired missile barrages at Israeli civilian communities from Gaza in the the south, and Lebanon in the north.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror boss Ziyad al-Nakhala also condemned the incident as a “serious threat” and called on Palestinians to prepare “for the inevitable confrontation in the coming days.”

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, the Spokesman for Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, said the move “exceeds all red lines and will lead to a large explosion.”

Condemning the incident “in the strongest terms, the Jordanian Foreign Ministry warned Israel over “consequences of this dangerous escalation” and said Amman is holding Jerusalem “responsible for the safety of the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

The Foreign Ministries of Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia also denounced what the referred to as an Israeli intrusion into Al-Aqsa.

Despite Israel’s attempts to calm tensions, Arab youths barricaded themselves with the mosque again last night in further efforts to seek a violent confrontation with Israeli police forces. Following failure of efforts by Jordan’s Islamic Waqf to persuade those inside to depart, police were once again forced to enter the ancient shrine to forcibly removed the rioters.

One Muslim later told police that after entering the mosque to pray, masked “Shabab” (Arab youth) trapped him inside along with other worshippers. “They wouldn’t even let the women out,” he said, stressing the rioters declared that, “no one can leave.”

It is important to note that as part of Israel’s commitment to ensuring religious freedom, over 130,000 Muslims entered the Dome of the Rock compound to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque for Friday prayers today.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque area is the most sensitive site in the generations-old conflict with Israel. It was built atop the ruins of both biblical temples, considered by the Jewish People as the holiest site in the world and also revered to Christians. The compound is Islam’s third most sacred site after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Even though Israel regards the entirety of of Jerusalem as its eternal capital and the center of the Jewish faith, it has observed the “Status Quo” arrangement that existed prior to its reunification of Jerusalem following the 1967 Six Day War, that bars Jewish prayer at the compound as not to ‘inflame Muslim anger.’ Religious worship on the al-Aqsa compound is restricted to Muslims, while Jews pray at the Western Wall nearby.