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The leader of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Sheikh Ra'ad Salah, began serving a five-month jail term yesterday at Ayalon Prison in Ramle. The prison sentence followed his conviction for insulting and assaulting a police officer, allegedly spitting in the face of a border policeman at a 2007 demonstration in Jerusalem at which protesters claimed Israeli construction work near the Temple Mount was part of an effort to destroy Muslim holy sites, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Salah arrived at the prison after traveling in a motorcade from his home in Umm al-Fahm, accompanied by dozens of supporters. At an improvised press conference at the entrance to the prison, Salah said he did not view the prison term as punishment because it was part of the continuing effort, as he saw it, to liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque. He called on the Palestinians to close ranks in the face of the Israeli threat, as he characterized it, adding: "The occupation will be lifted at the end of the day."

He warned the Muslim world to be on guard against any Israeli plan to build a third Temple on the Temple Mount site, where the Al-Aqsa Mosque now stands. The Islamic Movement is expected to encourage increased visitation by its supporters to the Temple Mount and the Old City of Jerusalem in the near future.

Salah and the other speakers at the press conference called for reconciliation between the Palestinian Fatah and Hamas factions so that together they could confront what they termed Israeli threats. Arab Knesset members were conspicuous in their absence. The only MK present was Afu Aghbaria (Hadash ), a resident of Umm al-Fahm.