An Israeli court said on Monday it would order a contested building on Jerusalem's Temple Mount shut, unless the Waqf, the Islamic custodian of the Temple Mount, responds within a week to the state's request to close Bab al-Rahma, which in recent weeks became a flashpoint site of tension between Israeli security forces and Palestinians.
The Waqf, however, refuse to appear at Israeli courts as a matter of principle for issues pertaining to the Temple Mount, so as not to appear to show any recognition of Israeli sovereignty there.
State prosecutors asked for the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court to rule on the case, after it turned out during hearings on extending the remand or Palestinians suspected of visiting the site against Israeli law, that no such order was ever issued to shut the building, reopened by the Waqf last month.
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Bab al-Rahma, which has become a focal point of Israeli, Jordanian and Waqf controversy, had been shut for 16 years by the Israel Police, but that closure order expired in August. Since its reopening by Muslim worshipers, police have sought to re-shut the building to keep out protesters.
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It had been ordered shut in 2003 for being used by an association with links to Hamas. In August the police sked the court to shut it permanently as part of its war against terror. No decision has yet been rendered, and therefore the court said last week there is no order to keep the building shut.
In response, Jerusalem District prosecutors submitted a new request to shut it down. "In accordance with updated security information submitted to the police chief, it is essential to shut the respondent's offices based on evidence that the offices are being used for Hamas activity and as a foothold by the terrorist organization on the Temple Mount," the request says.
All was calm at the Temple Mount on Monday but police arrested the Waqf guard that opened the site, as they have done every morning since protesters reopened the building. The police also issued restraining orders against Waqf guards and Palestinian activists, including Waqf head Sheikh Abdel-Azeem Salhab, to prevent them from getting to the site.
Statements issued on behalf of the guards urged worshipers to join them in prayer outside the Temple Mount gates on Friday. A similar protest was held a year and a half ago when the police installed metal detectors at the entrances to the Temple Mount after the murder of two Druze police officers by Palestinians near the entrance to the compound.