|Palestinians praying in the streets under the watch of armed Israeli forces. | Photo: REUTERS|
|Following a shootout in occupied East Jerusalem that left three Palestinians and two Israeli officers dead, Israeli police forces closed down the Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.
The thousands who come to the mosque every Friday for prayers were turned away, and forced to pray in the streets under the close watch of armed Israeli forces.
Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, the grand mufti of Jerusalem spoke to Ma'an news agency, telling them that Israeli forces prevented him from entering the mosque that day, and that it was the first time Israel had closed down the mosque for Friday prayers since 1967.
“We insist on reaching the Al-Aqsa Mosque and performing prayers there. The occupation preventing us from praying marks an assault on our right to worship in this pure Islamic mosque,” he told Ma'an.
Hussein was later detained and taken into custody after he began to lead prayers out in the streets nearby. He was then released on a US$2,800 bail.
Ma'an also reported that around 60 worshipers who were at the Mosque around the time of the attack were detained and interrogated, along with 15 of the mosque's guards.
Some witnesses said that Israeli forces entered the mosque compound with shoes on, which is highly disrespectful to the sacred space, and also proceeded to dump out garbage containers on the floor, claiming to be “searching” them.
Hundreds of Israeli police have occupied the streets of the area surrounding the mosque, erecting roadblocks and preventing access.
Some have said that Israel is using the attack to impose greater control on the rights of Muslims in the mosque's compound. The compound is home to both the Al-Aqsa mosque, and the place known as the Wailing Wall, which is the holiest site in Judaism.
Palestinians have long feared an attempt by Israel to change the status of the mosque, which is currently closed off to non-muslim practices. The Israeli government has increasingly encroached on the mosque with police, and excavations in the immediate area. Some far-right Israeli groups have even called for the Mosque to be demolished.
“What happened earlier is now being taken advantage of by the Israeli right to impose a new reality in Al-Aqsa mosque,” a worshiper told Al-Jazeera.
An Israeli police spokesperson said that the decision to close the mosque was a response to the “dangerous, extreme, and exceptional” attack this week, and that it is to “maintain public safety and order.”
The 22-member Arab League issued a statement condemning the closing of the mosque and called on Israel to reopen it immediately, saying the move will fuel conflict.