Last updated: 8 May, 2013

Israel detains Jerusalem’s top Islamic cleric

Israeli police briefly detained a top Muslim cleric on Wednesday as the Jewish state marked Jerusalem Day, sparking a furious response from Jordan which summoned Israel’s ambassador in Amman.

In Jerusalem’s Old City, police arrested more than a dozen people for what they said was disruption of public order, as Jews passed through Arab-dominated areas to holy sites in annexed east Jerusalem.

Police said detectives questioned Jerusalem Mufti Mohammed Hussein in connection with an incident at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound a day earlier in which “chairs were thrown at a group of Jews”.

After six hours of questioning, they released him without charge, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

“The mufti was investigated for six hours over what happened at Temple Mount yesterday and over his recent declarations about the situation there,” he said, using the Israeli term for the sprawling plaza in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City.

The compound, which sits above the Western Wall plaza, houses the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques and is Islam’s third holiest site.

It is also Judaism’s most holy place as it was the site of First and Second Temples.

Palestinians condemned Hussein’s detention, and the incident sparked a furious response from Jordan, which has custodianship over Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem.

Jordan’s Interior Minister Hussein Majali, the acting foreign minister, summoned Israeli ambassador Daniel Nevo, official news agency Petra reported.

“These Israeli actions violate international law and obstruct peace efforts. As occupying force, Israel is responsible for preventing such provocations. Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa are a red line,” Majali said.

Majali asked Nevo “to convey this message to his government in a very clear way,” Petra reported.

During a parliamentary session in Amman, MPs unanimously demanded the government expel Nevo and recall its own envoy from Tel Aviv, Petra reported.

The vote came in response to “Israeli occupation measures at Al-Aqsa mosque.”

Addressing the MPs, Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur said one of the reasons was “the detention of Mufti of Jerusalem Sheikh Mohammed Hussein.”

“If things develop, the government will ask the UN Security Council to hold an emergency meeting,” Petra quoted him as saying.

There was no immediate response from Israel’s foreign ministry.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas “condemned the occupying Israeli authorities’ detention” of Hussein, his office said.

Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, hailed the Jordanian MPs’ call to expel Nevo.

“We praise the stance of the Jordanian parliament on the expulsion of the Zionist ambassador and call for Arab and Islamic moves to cut off (Israel),” the Islamist movement said in a statement.

After Hussein’s release, police arrested several people as Israelis celebrated Jerusalem Day, which marks the “reunification” of the city after Israel captured the Arab eastern sector from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War.

Israel later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognised by the international community.

Thousands of Israelis joined marches in the city on Wednesday, including a “flag march” that passed through Damascus Gate on its way to the Western Wall.

Police, who were deployed in their thousands, arrested 13 people including two Arab youths suspected of throwing water at Jews during the flag dance near Damascus Gate, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.