Palestinians outraged over ruling allowing Jewish prayer on Temple Mount
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Palestinians outraged over ruling allowing Jewish prayer on Temple Mount

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Palestinians expressed outrage and warned of an escalation on Thursday after a court ruling on Wednesday implied support for allowing quiet prayer by Jewish visitors on the Temple Mount, the first such official recognition of the practice which has gone relatively undisturbed for the past year and a half.

On Wednesday, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court heard the appeal of Aryeh Lipo, a Jewish visitor to the Temple Mount who had been removed and distanced from the complex for 15 days after a police officer ordered him to stop praying during a visit on Yom Kippur.

After watching a recording of the incident, Justice Bilha Yahalom ruled that the appellant’s behavior did not violate the law or police instructions on the Temple Mount, as he was praying without a crowd and quietly in a way that was not external or visible. The ruling stated as well that Israel Police did not dispute that Lipo, like many others, prays on a daily basis on the Temple Mount.

The justice additionally dismissed the notion that Lipo posed any danger or committed any violation with his quiet prayer, despite claims by police to the contrary.

While the High Court of Justice has ruled in the past that Jews do have the legal right to pray on the Temple Mount, police have cited security concerns to impose a blanket prohibition on Jewish prayer.

Jewish visitors to the site are informed upon entry that prayer and religious items such as prayer books or prayer shawls or forbidden in the complex, although, since late 2019, Jewish visitors have been able to pray quietly, in certain parts of the site, relatively undisturbed.

Shai Glick, CEO of the Betzalmo NGO, welcomed the ruling on Wednesday, calling it the first time that it was “explicitly stated” that Jews have the full right to pray on the Temple Mount. “I am sure that from now on Israel Police will understand and internalize this and the prayers will continue as normal,” said Glick.

Moshe Polsky, an attorney from the right-wing Honenu legal aid group who represented Lipo, also welcomed the decision on Wednesday, saying it legalized what has been already practiced on the Temple Mount for the past year and allows Jews to pray at the site.

“It is inconceivable that Jews in the Temple Mount area should not be allowed to mumble and pray even silently when Muslims on the mountain are allowed to do everything – pray, demand, play football, and riot while the police do not prevent this – and Jews should feel like strangers in the holy place,” said Polsky.

The court ruling has drawn outrage from Jordanians and Palestinians, with warnings that such moves could escalate the situation in the region.

Haitham Abu Alfoul, a spokesperson for Jordan’s Foreign Ministry called the decision “null,” saying it has no legal effect as international law does not recognize Israeli authority over east Jerusalem, according to Jordan’s Petra News Agency.

Alfoul added that the ruling is a “flagrant violation of international legitimacy,” and oversteps the status-quo at al-Aqsa Mosque. The spokesperson stressed that the Jordanian-run Waqf department is the sole body responsible for managing the affairs of the site.

The Hamas movement called the ruling a “clear declaration of war” and a “blatant aggression against the blessed al-Aqsa Mosque” on Thursday.

“The battle of the sword of Jerusalem was not and will not be the last chapter of the confrontation under the title of Jerusalem, and the resistance that was promised and fulfilled confirms that it is ready and prepared to repel aggression and defend rights,” warned Hamas.

The movement called on Palestinians and Arab-Israelis to intensify their presence at the mosque and to “form a bulwark against the occupation.” Hamas also called on Arab and Muslim countries to “take their role in defending” the mosque, adding that the mosque and its squares are “waiting for the masses of the liberated conquerors, and they are not waiting for the masses of typographers who enter fearfully under the protection of the occupation.”

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement (PIJ) also expressed outrage against the decision, calling it “invalid and an attack on the sanctity of al-Aqsa Mosque and the pure right of Muslims to it.”

The PIJ warned Israel of the consequences of the decision, stressing that the Palestinians will “face any attempts to harm Al-Aqsa, with all strength, steadfastness and relentless determination.”

The Palestinian governor of Jerusalem, Adnan Ghaith, warned that the decision to allow quiet prayer set a dangerous precedent and claimed that the decision was part of an effort to divide the complex to prepare for the building of the Third Temple, according to the Palestinian Safa news.

The controversy over the decision came as a Hamas delegation met with Egyptian officials in Cairo to discuss continuing efforts to reach an agreement of calm and a prisoner swap deal. A delegation from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) movement is also expected to visit Cairo in the coming days.

The Hamas delegation reportedly warned Egypt that any truce agreement would depend on the situation in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Israeli prisons, according to al-Araby al-Jadeed, a London-based Arabic media outlet. The delegation also warned that the situation could “explode” as it did in May during Operation Guardian of the Walls, due to what it called “continuous Israeli violations and crimes” in Jerusalem and against prisoners, as well as the continuation of settlement building, according to Safa.

The controversy also comes after a recent uptick in violence in the West Bank and Jerusalem and a week after eight Palestinians were killed by Israeli gunfire in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including three Hamas operatives and three PIJ operatives.

During recent arrest operations in the West Bank, armed clashes have broken out between Palestinians and Israeli security forces, with two IDF soldiers wounded in clashes during an arrest operation targeting a large and heavily armed Hamas terrorist cell in the West Bank.

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