Israel briefly detains senior Muslim official in Jerusalem

Israel briefly detains senior Muslim official in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM – The Associated Press
Israel briefly detains senior Muslim official in Jerusalem

Chairman of the Waqf Council, Abdel-Azeem Salhab, attends Friday prayers together with other Palestinian Muslims inside the Golden Gate near Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City on Febr. 22. (Ammar Awad / Reuters)

Israeli police briefly detained the head of the Islamic authority that oversees Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem early on Feb. 24 following recent protests there.

The cleric, Sheikh Abdelazeem Salhab, was appointed to head the Waqf by neighboring Jordan, which strongly protested the arrest. Jordan's minister of Islamic affairs, Abdul Nasser Abul Basal, said the Israeli action was "dangerous and an unacceptable escalation" that affected Jordan's role as the custodian of Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, according to the Petra news agency.

Israeli police confirmed the arrest on Feb. 24, and the Waqf later said police had released Salhab and banned him from entering the site for a week.

On Feb. 22, Palestinian protesters streamed into a part of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound that Israel had sealed off in 2003 because it was home to a heritage organization allegedly connected with a militant Islamic group. Israeli police accused the Waqf, the Islamic authority that oversees the compound, of attempting to change the status quo at the sensitive site by convening in the closed area last week.

Israeli police said the crowds that gathered dispersed peacefully after prayers. Tension at the shrine has escalated in recent days with similar protests turning into scuffles with police. Police have arrested 60 Palestinians in recent days suspected of "causing disturbances" and "inciting violence."

The contested site, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The compound is the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest site for Jews. It has been a flashpoint of violence in the past.

Israel, Al Aqsa, Jordan