Mashaal calls on Muslims to ‘defend’ al-Aqsa Mosque

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal accused Israel of trying to take over al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount and called on Muslims to “defend” it.

Mashaal, who lives in the Qatari capital of Doha, said that Israel was trying to take advantage of the crises in Syria and Iraq to assert control over the site, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims, Israel Radio reported Thursday.

The Temple Mount compound has seen numerous violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police over the past several weeks, as tensions boiled over during the Jewish High Holidays, during which Jewish worshipers flock to Jerusalem to pray at the Western Wall below the Temple Mount.

Three policemen were injured Wednesday during protests against restrictions on Muslim worship at the mosque. Police used stun grenades as a crowd of about 400 people gathered near the entrance to the mosque, an AFP photographer reported…

The Economist blames it all on the Jews—what a surprise:

Israel conquered the Temple Mount with the rest of East Jerusalem in 1967. It left the raised esplanade, with the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa (the third holiest Muslim site), in the hands of its former masters, the Jordanian-appointed trustees, or Waqf. The site was open to all visitors, but only Muslims could pray there. The government and rabbinical authorities confined Jewish prayers to the base of the external retaining wall, known as the Wailing or Western Wall.

This fragile balance is changing. Many Israeli rabbis who hitherto deemed stepping on the hallowed Temple Mount to be as sinful as incest, incurring a karet, or divine death, are now reconsidering. At least one government minister, Uri Ariel, often walks round the esplanade. To mark this month’s Feast of Tabernacles the government funded a march to Jerusalem billed as re-enacting the temple pilgrimage. It also funds the Temple Institute, whose head, Chaim Richman, organises religious Jewish tours of the sanctuary (and is seeking a red heifer to purify a future temple priesthood). Even so visits by religious Jews, numbering just 8,500 last year, are dwarfed by the hundreds of thousands of Christians and perhaps 3m Muslim entrants. But what was once a fringe cult is increasingly well established. On the day of Mr Feiglin’s visit Israeli police padlocked Muslim protesters inside the al-Aqsa mosque to keep the peace, and fired stun-grenades and tear gas through its windows. “It feels more secure this way,” said Yoel Cohen, a religious Jew, over the din.

Since last summer’s Gaza war, Palestinians in Jerusalem have become restive. The police have repeatedly cleared the compound of Muslims, giving sole access to non-Muslims for several hours; even when open, Muslims under 50 have often been barred. The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, dismisses Palestinian warnings of a looming religious war, and vows to maintain the status quo “exactly as it has been for many decades”. Mr Feiglin, for one, intends to prove him wrong.