(JTA) – A senior Islamic cleric in Jerusalem said Muslim violence on the Temple Mount is a legitimate form of self-defence.
Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, who served as the Palestinian Authority’s top clergy member in Jerusalem from 1994 to 2006, told the Times of Israel Wednesday that “Jewish extremists” visiting the contested site have “aggressive intentions” and “want to harm al-Aqsa [Mosque],” rebuild the Temple or “pray overtly” there.
The holiest site in Judaism and third-holiest site in Islam, the Temple Mount, which is in Jerusalem’s Old City and adjacent to the Western Wall, is arguably the most contested religious site in the world.
Disturbances have occurred there frequently in the past year and were particularly severe earlier this week during Rosh Hashanah.
From Sunday through Tuesday, Israeli security forces arrested some 26 Palestinian protesters, and 14 Israeli police officers were lightly injured by rocks and firecrackers, Ynet reported. At least 36 Palestinians were injured in the clashes, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday during a tour of Jerusalem, including the sites of recent violence, that Israel is “in favour of strictly maintaining the status quo on the Temple Mount.”
Under the status quo, the Temple Mount is under control of the Muslim Waqf, as it has been since 1967, and only Muslims are permitted to pray at the site, though Jews and Christians may visit. The Waqf is under the jurisdiction of Jordan.
Sabri contended that religious Jewish aggression on the Temple Mount began during the premiership of Ariel Sharon in 2001, and has been escalating ever since. He criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for allowing Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, a member of the Jewish Home party, to visit the site on Sunday.
Sabri currently heads the High Islamic Council on Temple Mount, which was created, according to its Facebook page, to “protect holy sites and primarily the blessed al-Aqsa Mosque.”