w w w . h a a r e t z d a i l y . c o m
Last update - 04:02 27/08/2003

Waqf official not banned from Temple Mount after arrest

By Moshe Reinfeld and Gideon Alon, Haaretz Correspondents and Agencies

Jerusalem Magistrate Judge Haim Li-Ran Tuesday turned down a police request to ban Waqf official Mustafa Abu Zahara from the Temple Mount plaza for the coming two months after he participated in a protest prayer at the site.

Police arrested him Tuesday, charging that he blocked Jews from entering the mount area through the Mograbi Gate. His attorney argued that Abu Zahara, a Jordanian appointee to the Waqf council, has been going to the mount every day since the 1990s, and, said the attorney, the police had no evidence proving that there were disturbances at Mograbi Gate, as they claimed. The lawyer did admit that Abu Zahara did take part in a protest prayer at Mograbi Gate, but he said there was no violence and his arrest violated his freedom of expression. Police said 50 others took part in the protest.

Although the judge refused to order the man kept away from the Temple Mount, Abu Zahara was required to sign a bond guaranteeing he would not incite worshipers. But shortly after Abu Zahara was released, his lawyer, Mohammed Dahla, showed up in the judge's office to report the police had detained his client again and were trying to pressure him into staying away from the Temple Mount. The judge canceled the bond and ordered the man brought to the courthouse, where he was released.

The protest prayers went against the government's decision to allow non-Muslims to visit the Temple Mount, a move sought by Old City merchants eager for tourism as well as Waqf officials, who want the entrance fee from tourists. But officially, the Palestinian Authority is against the new Israeli policy. Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas condemned Israel's decision to allow Jews to enter the compound at such a critical period in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"This (inflammatory) Israeli policy is a recipe for friction and violence," Abbas said in a statement Tuesday. "We all know the consequences of such action from previous incidents in 2000," he added, referring to then-opposition MK Ariel Sharon's visit to the site. On Monday, about 20 Muslims gathered on the inside of Mograbi Gate, the old wooden door to the side of the Western Wall which is used by non-Muslim visitors. Police escorting 200 visitors through the gate argued briefly with the Muslims. No one was injured and the tour continued. In addition to Abu Zahara, another Waqf official was arrested and released on bond yesterday.

"A group of worshipers demonstrated peacefully against the Israeli decision to allow Jews to enter," said Adnan Husseini, the Waqf director. "The (Muslim) worshipers only prayed near the entrance of Mograbi Gate when Israeli police interfered and clashed with them."

Police said that as part of the arrangement for reopening the shrine, non-Muslim visitors were not allowed to pray there. Police spokesman Gil Kleiman said he did not know of visitors having prayed at the shrine, but said nothing can be done to stop someone from whispering prayers under his breath.

Likud MK Gilad Erdan and National Union MK Eliezer Cohen visited the Temple Mount Tuesday. Erdan said that "it is important for MKs to visit the site to win back Israeli sovereignty over it." He said he was under the impression that the "Waqf officials are looking for clashes."