Isreal detains Jerusalem's top Muslim cleric after scuffles at al-Aqsa mosque

Published May 8th, 2013 - 10:01 GMT

Israeli police took Jerusalem’s most senior Muslim cleric into custody Wednesday for questioning regarding “disturbances” at the al-Aqsa compound, a spokesman said. Wednesday marked the second consecutive day Israeli forces have prevented Palestinians from entering the holy site.

Jerusalem mufti Mohammed Hussein was taken from his home by detectives and was being questioned at a police station "on suspicion of involvement in a disturbance that took place yesterday (Tuesday),” in the al-Aqsa compound, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

"Some chairs were thrown at a group of Jews," at the site, Rosenfeld told AFP of the previous day’s incident when clashes broke out after Jewish settlers entered the compound guarded by Israeli forces. Palestinians were refused entry.

Police erected several checkpoints around the holy site Wednesday to prevent any Palestinian under 50 from entering, local media reported, as 100 Jewish settlers entered the site early morning escorted by Israeli forces.

Men over 50 were only allowed entrance after having their identity cards taken by Israeli officers, witnesses told Ma’an news agency.

Israeli forces evacuated all Palestinians who had been inside the mosque for dawn prayers.

A day earlier, clashes broke out after Israeli forces and 40 settlers stormed the holy site, injuring several Palestinians attempting to enter and arresting at least three others.

Accompanied by members of the far-right Likud party, the group entered the mosque and kicked out students attending study sessions as Israeli forces stood guard outside the entrance to bar Palestinians from entering, using tear gas on the crowd.

Hussein's detention and the barring of Palestinians from the compound comes on Jerusalem Day, when Israel marks the "reunification" of the city after it captured the Arab eastern sector from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War.

Israel later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognized by the international community.

Thousands of Israelis will hold marches and rallies throughout the city later on Wednesday, and Rosenfeld said "thousands of police were being deployed in and around Jerusalem and the Old City in preparation for the annual events."

The al-Aqsa compound is venerated by Jews as the site where King Herod's temple once stood. Israelis have made repeated threats to demolish the Aqsa mosque, considered the third holiest site in Islam, in order to build a Jewish temple in its stead.

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