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Back on the table: Israel's bill to silence Muslim call to prayer

Draft plans to mute mosques will proceed after changes ensure Jewish Shabbat siren unaffected, say officials.
An Israeli flag waves in front of the minaret of a mosque in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem's Old City (AFP)

An Israeli bill to mute the Muslim call to prayer is to go forward after it was amended so as not to affect the Jewish Shabbat siren, the speaker's office said on Wednesday.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, had blocked the draft law in its original form for fear it would also force the toning down of the sirens that announce the start of the Jewish day of rest at sundown each Friday.

But he lifted his objections after it was amended to apply only between 11pm and 7am, limiting its scope to the first of the five daily Muslim calls to prayer just before dawn.

The bill will "probably" now be put to a preliminary vote in parliament "next week", a spokesman for speaker Yuli Edelstein told AFP.

It will then require three further parliamentary votes before it becomes law but it has already sparked outrage across the Arab and wider Muslim world.

Opposition to the bill

Even Israeli government watchdogs have balked at the proposed legislation, describing it as a threat to religious freedom and an unnecessary provocation.

Israeli-Palestinian politician Ahmed Tibi has vowed to appeal to the High Court of Justice if the Shabbat siren is excluded from the scope of the bill on the grounds that it discriminates between Jewish and Muslim citizens.

The law would apply to mosques in annexed Arab east Jerusalem as well as Israel, although the supersensitive al-Aqsa mosque compound - Islam's third holiest site - will be exempted. 

"No changes will be made on the Temple Mount," an Israeli official told AFP, using the Jewish term for the mosque compound, which is also Judaism's holiest site.

The bill's sponsor, Motti Yogev, of the far-right Jewish Home party, says the legislation is necessary to avoid daily disturbance to the lives of hundreds of thousands of non-Muslim Israelis.

He also charges that some muezzins - the lay officials charged with calling the faithful to prayer - abuse their function to incite hatred of Israel.

His party is a key member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition.

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