Israel arrests Palestinian official after holy site scuffles

JERUSALEM: Israeli police on Wednesday arrested a senior Palestinian official after recent scuffles at a highly sensitive holy site in Jerusalem, officials said.

The Palestinian governor of Jerusalem, Adnan Gheith, was among 22 Palestinians arrested overnight in raids in east Jerusalem, official Palestinian news agency WAFA said.

Police spoke of two arrests, including “a senior official from the Palestinian Authority,” over suspicions of fraud and forgery.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP they were also arrested in connection with “recent incidents” at the Haram al-Sharif, or Holy Sanctuary, which includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock.

The suspects were being questioned, Rosenfeld said, without providing further details.

The arrests risked further raising tensions surrounding the site holy to both Muslims and Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount.

There have recently been scuffles between worshippers and police there over access to a side building in the compound closed by Israel since 2003.

Arguing there was no longer any reason for it to remain closed, Palestinian officials reopened the building on Friday and crowds of worshippers prayed inside despite an Israeli order barring access.

The building is known as the Golden Gate or Gate of Mercy in Arabic.

On Sunday, police arrested and later released a top Palestinian Muslim official, Abdel Azeem Salhab, and his deputy after the holy site incidents.

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Salhab is the head of the council of the Waqf in Jerusalem, the religious authority that governs the site in the disputed city.

The arrest drew condemnation from Jordan, the custodian of the holy compound.

The site is the third-holiest in Islam and a focus of Palestinian aspirations for statehood.

It is also the location of Judaism’s most holy spot, revered as the site of the two biblical-era Jewish temples.

It is a frequent scene of conflict between the two sides.

Palestinians fear Israel will seek to assert further control over it, while Israel accuses Palestinians of using such claims as a rallying cry to incite violence.

Access to Golden Gate was closed by an Israeli court order in 2003 during the second Palestinian intifada over alleged militant activity there, police say. Waqf officials argue that the organisation that prompted the ban no longer exists.

The site is located in east Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.

Palestinian Authority activities are barred from Jerusalem by Israel.

As a result, the PA has a Jerusalem governor located in Al-Ram, just on the other side of Israel’s separation wall from the city in the occupied West Bank.

[source_without_link]Agence France-Presse[/source_without_link]