AMMAN: Jordan’s waqf minister has slammed the Israeli government for barring a top cleric from entering Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site, for 40 days.
Jordanian Minister of Waqf Abdel Naser Abu Basel described the temporary ban on Sheikh Abdel Hafiz Salhab, head of the Jerusalem Waqf Council, as “unacceptable.”
The Israelis have also ordered his deputy, Najeh Bkeirat, to stay away from Al-Aqsa Mosque for four months.
Other members of the newly established waqf council are to be quizzed too, with Israeli security wanting to question Mahdi Abdul Hadi, the head of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA), and Hatem Abdel Qader, the former Palestinian legislature and senior Fatah activist.
In a strongly worded statement on the Israeli action, Basel said: “Restricting the head of the waqf who holds diplomatic status, and others, is aimed at ruining the work of the Jerusalem waqf.
“It is aimed at crippling the work of the Jerusalem waqf, terrorizing members of the waqf council which was established recently by the Jordanian Cabinet, and is a violation of the Hashemite custodianship of the Islamic and Christian holy places.”
The Jordanian minister insisted that the Bab Al-Rahmeh prayer area will stay open to Muslim worshippers. A senior Jordanian Foreign Ministry official told Arab News that Salhab carried a diplomatic passport but did not have diplomatic status.
Khaleel Assali, a newly appointed member in the waqf council, said that during its occupation Israel had never acted in such a way against members of the Jordanian waqf. He told Arab News: “It is a clear escalation by Israel aimed at frightening the council.”
Assali said the waqf council had taken decisions to repair the prayer hall at Bab Al-Rahmeh but denied it had received any order to close it. “We open it and close it according to our decisions. At present there is a lot of water and we want to repair the site before opening it for regular prayers.”
Anis F. Kassim, editor of the Palestine Yearbook of International Law, told Arab News that holding a diplomatic passport did not make its holder part of the Jordanian diplomatic mission. “Sure, the restriction is a kind of a punishment, but it doesn’t reach the level of a diplomatic crisis,” he said.
“Normally host countries have the right to restrict the movement of diplomats accredited to it and in some cases can deport them by considering them persona non grata,” Kassim added. He noted, however, that Salhab’s case was different to most.
During a weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday in Ramallah, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah referred to the daily challenges being faced in Jerusalem. “Palestinians are standing up to the Israeli attempts to deny Jerusalem’s Arab and Islamic character, trying to empty it of its original inhabitants and its leaders, to isolate the city and to close Bab Al-Rahmeh.”
Ofer Zalzberg, International Crisis Group’s senior Middle East and North Africa analyst, called Israel’s restraining orders on the waqf council “unprecedented.” Zalzberg said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to be trying to deflect accusations “about refraining from ordering the police to physically close the building.”