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An Israeli border policeman restrains a Palestinian woman from entering the Haram Al Sharif, home to Islamís third holiest site, following clashes in the area.
An Israeli border policeman restrains a Palestinian woman from entering the Haram Al Sharif, home to Islamís third holiest site, following clashes in the area.

Israel detains Jerusalem's grand mufti, enraging Muslims

Jerusalem's top Muslim leader arrested after 'clash' at holy site, angering Palestinians and prompting Jordan's parliament to unanimously call for bill to annul the 1994 Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty. Hugh Naylor reports from Ramallah

RAMALLAH // Israel yesterday detained Jerusalem's top Muslim religious leader and questioned him over an alleged attack on Israelis visiting the Haram Al Sharif.

Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, the holy city's grand mufti, was taken into custody by Israeli police at his home and questioned for six hours at police headquarters before he was released without charge.

The rare move against a high-ranking religious figure in Jerusalem prompted an immediate response from the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, which until the 1967 Arab-Israeli war controlled the Haram Al Sharif, known to Jews as Temple Mount.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, immediately condemned Sheikh Hussein's detention, and demanded the grand mufti's immediate release. The "arrest represents an audacious challenge to freedom of worship", he said.

Jordan's prime minister, Abdullah Ensour, said his government might ask the United Nations Security Council to convene in emergency session to discuss the issue.

The lower house of the Jordanian parliament unanimously called for the expulsion of Israel's ambassador to Amman, Daniel Nevo, and started to draft a recommendation that the government annul the 1994 Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty.

Mickey Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesman, said Sheikh Hussein was questioned in connection with "recent disturbances" on Haram Al Sharif that included "incitement, disturbances and public disorder". He gave no further detail.

An unnamed Israeli official said, however, that the sheikh was issued a warning and told to lower tensions after Muslim worshippers threw rocks and chairs at tourists visiting the hilltop compound on Tuesday, a day which Israelis commemorate the capture and "reuniting" of Jerusalem in 1967.

Palestinian youths reportedly clashed with Israeli police near the Haram Al Sharif, protesting against the mufti's detention.

The 35-acre Haram Al Sharif is one of the most contested religious sites in the world.

It is home to the Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third-holiest site. Jews revere the area as the site of the second temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70AD. Jewish tradition maintains that it is there that a third temple will be built.

Shortly before Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister in 2000, he visited the Haram Al Sharif with more than 1,000 security guards and declared that the "Temple Mount is in our hands".

That foray is not only credited with helping Mr Sharon win the premiership, it is also widely thought to have triggered the second intifada which began in 2000 and left about 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis dead before ending almost five years later.

hnaylor@thenational.ae

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