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Israel arrests imam of Al-Aqsa Mosque Ekrima Sabri

Former grand mufti detained as he prepared his Friday sermon, says his wife
Ekrima Sabri is the former grand mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine, and the imam of the Al-Aqsa Mosque (Twitter)

Israeli authorities on Wednesday arrested the imam of Al-Aqsa Mosque, Shiekh Ekrima Sabri, at his home in occupied East Jerusalem, his family said.

Sabri, 82, was the grand mufti of Palestine from 1996 to 2006, and has been arrested several times by Israeli forces. 

The imam was interrogated and then released hours after being taken from his home in the neighbourhood of al-Suwaneh, near the Mount of Olives.

His wife said police took him to Moscovia Detention Centre in West Jerusalem without explanation, at 10am as he prepared his Friday sermon.

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Sabri has been giving Friday sermons at Al-Aqsa Mosque since 1973. He has previously been banned from entering the sacred compound in the Old City several times, particularly in 2000 as the Second Intifada erupted. 

Most recently, he was barred from entry in January 2020. He told local media then that an Israeli police officer accused him of “incitement” during a sermon he held the day before.

On Wednesday, 66 Israeli settlers broke into the Al-Aqsa compound accompanied by Israeli police and four intelligence officers, Wafa reported. 

Israeli settlers regularly enter the compound and tour the area around the Dome of the Rock, a shrine built in the 7th century by the Umayyad empire.

Such visits are highly incendiary, as the compound is one of the most sacred places in Islam and Jewish prayer is inhibited there under the status quo that regulates Jerusalem's holy sites.

Some settlers have repeatedly pushed for an increased Jewish presence at the site, and called for the construction of a Third Jewish Temple on the compound and the destruction of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

Sabri's detention on Wednesday was part of a wave of arrests carried out by Israeli forces, with several other Palestinians seized in the occupied West Bank. 

In Bethlehem, Israeli forces arrested four Palestinians, while five others were detained in Jenin, Ramallah and Nablus.

Also on Wednesday, Israel demolished Palestinian commercial properties in Ein Shalabi village near Nablus over a lack of building permits, Wafa reported. Building permits in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are near impossible to obtain from Israel for Palestinians.

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