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MENAFN - Jordan Times - 20/02/2012

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(MENAFN - Jordan Times) Jordan warned Israel on Sunday over attempts by right-wing activists to storm Al Aqsa Mosque as fresh clashes broke out in Jerusalem in the latest sign that simmering tensions are threatening to transform the third holiest site in Islam into a flashpoint for conflict.

Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh denounced the use of force by Israeli authorities against worshippers during clashes that erupted yesterday morning after Israeli police accompanied a group of non-Muslim visitors into Al Aqsa Mosque through the Bab Al Magharbeh gate.

Yesterday's clashes came on the backdrop of calls by extremist Israeli groups and politicians to storm Al Aqsa Mosque and establish the so-called Third Temple, with eyewitnesses claiming that a number of right-wing activists had accompanied the group of foreign visitors and successfully entered the mosque.

According to the Jerusalem awqaf authorities, clashes broke out after worshippers singled out right-wing activists amidst the tour group and attempted to apprehend the "intruders", prompting 40 anti-riot police to storm Al Aqsa Mosque plaza and use force to dispel Muslim prayer-goers.

According to Israeli police, occupation forces arrested 18 Palestinians for their participation in the incident, accusing the men of "throwing stones" at the tour group and injuring several policemen.

In a press statement issued yesterday, Judeh stressed Amman's rejection of the "dangerous and systematic" attempts by Israeli extremist groups to occupy Al Aqsa Mosque, holding Tel Aviv accountable for the series of provocative measures custodians warn may ignite fresh violence in Jerusalem.

Minister of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs Abdul Salam Abbadi also condemned Israeli security forces for storming Al Aqsa and clashing with worshippers on Sunday, the latest in a series of acts that the minister said amount to a "declaration of war" on the third holiest site in Islam.

The latest sign of rising tensions was caused by calls by Israeli right-wing groups to "occupy" Al Aqsa, fuelled by an Israeli supreme court order earlier this month upholding the right of non-Muslims to pray at the holy site.

"The main and only reason behind the clashes today were the calls by Israeli extremists to storm Al Aqsa and the ongoing complacency of the Netanyahu government," said Azzam Khatib, head of the Jerusalem Awqaf Department.

The department renewed its call on Israeli authorities to close Bab Al Magharbeh, the main access point for non-Muslim visitors to Al Aqsa Mosque, in order to avoid any further escalations in tensions.

"In order to prevent the situation from going out of control we need Israeli authorities to close off Bab Al Magharbeh," Khatib said.

Site custodians and activists warn that the failure of Israeli authorities to stop the "occupy Al Aqsa" campaign - along with a series of provocative measures in recent months including excavations underneath Al Aqsa Mosque and the announcement of several tourism projects in and around the third holiest site in Islam - has pushed tensions in the Old City to their highest levels since the second Intifada, which broke out in 2000.

"Today we have seen the dangerous consequences of the atmosphere of distrust and extremism," said Zaki Tawfiq, head of the Israel-based Al Aqsa Foundation for Awqaf and Heritage.

"We are one misstep away from violence."

Abbadi warned of the "dangerous effects" of the ongoing presence of Israeli military and police forces in the third holiest site in Islam, which according to the Jerusalem awqaf has increased "dramatically" in recent weeks - accusing occupation authorities of complacency and even aiding Israeli extremists in their attempts to extend control over the site.

In response to yesterday's incident, Jordan called for the immediate intervention of the international community, Arab and Islamic worlds to stop Israel's "daily and ongoing violations" in Jerusalem.

Abbadi also urged Israeli authorities to dismantle the series of security cameras stationed within and around Al Aqsa Mosque, whose presence he described as a "blatant violation" of Jordan's historic and legal custodianship of the site and an attempt to intimidate Muslim worshippers from entering Al Aqsa.


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