Israeli court rules in favour of Jewish prayer at Al-Aqsa
Israel reaffirmed on Sunday a long-standing arrangement with Muslim authorities that prevents Jewish prayer at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third most holy site, pushing back against a lower Israeli court that questioned the legality of the prohibition.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which Jews believe contains the ruins of their two ancient temples, is stormed on a regular basis by far-right Israeli activists. Some of the extremists wish to demolish the mosque and build a temple in its place.
Under the decades-old "status quo", Israel allows Jews to visit the site - which is under the custodianship of Jordan - only if they refrain from religious rites.
Three Jewish minors, ordered to stay away for 15 days by police after they prostrated themselves and intoned a biblical prayer during a compound tour, contested the ban at Jerusalem Magistrate's Court. It ruled in their favour on Sunday.
The court said that "all residents of Israel could enter the Temple Mount and perform their religious rituals".
Police argued that the appellants had disrupted officers' duties and threatened public order. But Judge Zion Saharai, while noting he did not intend to interfere in law enforcement policy, said they had not "raise(d) worry of harm befalling national security, public safety or individual security".
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issued a statement calling the ruling "a grave assault against the historic status quo, a blatant declaration of a religious war which could inflame the whole region... and a flagrant challenge to international law”.
Jordan, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, serves as custodian of Al-Aqsa and also condemned the court ruling.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's office said the ruling would be appealed at the higher Jerusalem District Court.
"There is no change, nor is any change planned, on the status quo of the Temple Mount," it said in a statement, using the Jewish term for the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
"The magistrate's court decision is focused exclusively on the matter of the conduct of the minors brought before it, and does not include a broader determination regarding the freedom of worship on the Temple Mount."
With provocative stormings by Israeli extremists on the rise, including over the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, Palestinians have cried foul.
Hundreds of Palestinians were injured in attacks by Israeli security forces over the course of the holy month.
The ruling came a week before far-right Israelis are due to hold a provocative flag march through Jerusalem's Old City, which has been illegally occupied by Israel since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
The event has previously led to attacks on Palestinians, who want the Old City and other parts of East Jerusalem as the capital of their hoped-for future state.
Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist group that fought a Gaza war with Israel last year that was partly stoked by Jerusalem tensions, described the flag march's planned route through a Muslim quarter of the Old City as "adding fuel to the fire".
"I warn the enemy against carrying out such crimes,” Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said in a televised address.
(Reporting by Reuters and The New Arab Staff)