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Israeli court sentences top Islamic leader to 11 months in jail

Sheikh Raed Salah will enter prison on 15 November to serve an 11 month sentence for 'inciting violence' from a Friday sermon given in 2007
Sheikh Raed Salah speaks during a demonstration against Egypt's ousted president Mohamed Morsi's death sentence, in the town of Kfar Kana in northern Israel on 23 May 2015 (AFP)

An Israeli court on Tuesday upheld a conviction of outspoken Islamic cleric Raed Salah and jailed him for 11 months for inciting violence over Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque in 2007.

Salah is leader of the prominent northern wing of the Islamic Movement in Israel, which authorities have accused of inciting unrest, including the wave of recent attacks and clashes.

Although his movement is perceived as ideologically close to Hamas, Salah rejects violent resistance as a strategy for ending the Israeli occupation.

Despite this stance, however, Salah remains viewed with suspicion by the Israeli authorities.

Speaking to Al Jazeera after his sentence was announced, Saleh said, "If going to jail is the price we must pay for defending those principles, then I welcome it."

Salah was initially convicted on the incitement charge in March 2014 and sentenced to eight months in prison, but both he and the prosecution appealed. 

The court rejected his appeal, and Salah will enter the prison in accordance with this decision on 15 November.

Salah's attorney Omar Khamayseh told AFP he intended to appeal to the Supreme Court, but a prosecutor said he would have to request the right to do so, since he already appealed once.

Israel's Minister of Interior prevented Saleh from traveling to Turkey two weeks ago to attend a conference, and was brought back from the airport after he passed all the procedures that precede boarding the plane.

The Israeli prosecution had in initially demanded the arrest of Salah for a sentence between18 and 40 months, for allegedly giving an inciting Friday sermon in 2007 in Wadi Joz in Jerusalem.

Salah's sermon took place during a demonstration against Israeli construction work near the Al-Aqsa compound, in Jerusalem's Old City, and his speech was followed by clashes during which a number of Israeli policemen were injured.

During the sermon Salah had allegedly called on all Muslims to protect the mosque against the storming of Jewish settlers and members of the Knesset, which prompted the Israel general prosecutor to accuse accused Salah of inciting violence and racism.

While the magistrate court acquitted Salah of inciting racism he was convicted of inciting violence and sentenced to eight months in prison.

His lawyer appealed the sentence, at the risk of the district court's attempt to overturn the magistrate's court decision to invoke a longer sentence.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged legal measures to outlaw the Islamic Movement, which he accuses of encouraging violence.

Supports of Salah, however, say the Israeli accusations are politically motivated, aimed at silencing any peaceful dissent against the occupation and against what they say is gross mistreatment of Palestinians.