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Israel confiscates ancient Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem

Israeli Nature Authority personnel – backed by Israeli police – surrounded the historical Muslim cemetery with barbed wire
East Jerusalem’s historical Bab al-Rahmeh cemetery lies east of the al-Aqsa Mosque and dates back more than 1,400 years (AA)

JERUSALEM- Israeli authorities on Wednesday seized parts of occupied East Jerusalem’s historical Bab al-Rahmeh cemetery east of the al-Aqsa Mosque, according to a Palestinian official.

“Forces of the so-called ‘Israeli Nature Authority’ – backed by large numbers of Israeli police – on Wednesday morning forced their way in and set up barbed wire around large areas of the Muslim cemetery,” Mustafa Abu Zahra, head of the committee for the preservation of Islamic cemeteries in Jerusalem, told Anadolu Agency.

By means of such violations, he added, the Israeli authorities sought to transform the cemetery into a “national park” for Israeli Jews.

Bab al-Rahmeh is a Muslim cemetery that dates back more than 1,400 years. It is considered one of occupied East Jerusalem’s most important historical Islamic properties.

Other Muslim graveyards have suffered similar developments, including Mamilla cemetery in West Jersusalem, which is believed to have been established in the 7th century and contained remains from figures of the early Islamic period. Some say that the companions of the Prophet Muhammed are buried there.

Preserved as a historic site by the Supreme Muslim Council in 1927, the cemetery containing more than 1,500 graves was slowly developed by the Israeli government and now contains a hotel, a school, a parking lot, a public garden, a nightclub and the US consulate. The Israeli Museum of Tolerance is also set to open in on the grounds of the cemetery in 2017.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that at least 1,500 tombs were removed by bulldozers and the human remains thrown away.

Tensions have mounted around the area of the Bab al-Rahmeh cemetery and al-Aqsa Mosque in recent weeks, with Israeli police preventing Muslim women, children and men under 40 from entering the mosque before 11:30 am.

For Muslims, al-Aqsa represents the world's third holiest site. Jews, for their part, refer to the area as the "Temple Mount," claiming it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times.