Israel Arrests East Jerusalem Palestinians as Temple Mount Tensions Surge

Palestinians report that 25 were arrested by Israel in overnight raids, including the Palestinian Authority's Jerusalem governor

Israeli police confronts Palestinians in front of the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem, February 18, 2019.
AFP

Israel Police raided Tuesday night Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and carried out arrests. According to Palestinian sources, 25 Palestinians were arrested; among them was Adnan Ghaith, the Palestinian Authority's Jerusalem governor.

Contrary to these reports, the Israel Police said it only arrested two Palestinians (among them a PA official) over suspicion that they committed felonies of fraud, forgery and embezzlement.

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Palestinian reports say Israel raided the neighborhoods against the backgrop of tensions regarding the re-opening of the Bab al-Rahma, a building inside the Golden Gate near the Mount.

Officials in the Israeli defense establishment warned Tuesday that a wide escalation could be sparked after Palestinians worshipers broke into the compound. The officials warned that the escalation could spill over from East Jerusalem to the West Bank. Nonetheless, it remains unclear whether the arrests are related to the fact that the compound had been broken into.

Haaretz has reported that defense officials have been critical of the conduct of the Shin Bet security agency in this affair. According to these officials, security forces failed to catch on and interrupt the break-in, which had been planned for a while. The officials also accused the police of arresting the activists too late, failing to bring in backup and allowing their entrance into the compound.

Therefore, the officials said, the defense establishment enabled the opening of another mosque in the Temple Mount and now it cannot be evacuated without repercussions.

The Israel Police and Shin Bet are pointing fingers at one another. In an assessment that took place between security forces and the government, the police said that it allowed worshipers to enter the compound because it wanted to prevent clashes and just arrest the activists at a later point.

Since the compound was closed off in 2003, the Waqf has tried to cancel the shut-down order while the police was determined to uphold it.

Bab al-Rahma, in the eastern part of the Temple Mount (Al Haram al Sharif), was closed by Israel 16 year ago. The structure has been opened by worshippers last Friday. The structure remains open and is being renovated and prepared for prayer. On Monday, it was reported that Israel has decided to close off the structure. Rumor spread around, and many arrived to the compound. Right-wing politicians have called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take action and close the structure, expressing worry that Israel is "surrendering in advance."

Ghaith was appointed governor last September and has been arrested by the Jerusalem police a number of times since. In December, he was arrested on suspicions of cooperating with the Palestinian Authority’s security services in violation of the Oslo Accords. On another occasion, he was arrested on suspicions of involvement in the arrest of an East Jerusalem resident who was