Sheikh Yusuf Albaz, the imam of the Great Mosque of the central Israeli city of Lod, was detained on Saturday morning on suspicion of incitement over his stance on the recent uptick in violence at Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The sheikh was summoned for questioning in Lod over his position on developments at the mosque before he was arrested by Jerusalem police, his attorney Khaled Ezberga said.
Israeli police said Saturday that Albaz would be brought before the court in Jerusalem on Sunday, where police are expended to request an extension of his detention.
The imam, in his 60s, was arrested following his publication of content last week that contained incitement and support of violence and disturbances, according to the police spokeperson.
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Albaz, who is affiliated with the outlawed northern branch of the Islamic Movement, responded on Thursday on social media to criticism of his meeting with the movement's leader, Sheikh Raed Salah, who finished serving a 17-month sentence for incitement in December 2020. "He is my sheikh, my leader," he wrote.
"When one of the pigs from the Garin Hatorani [groups of young religious Zionist families who go to settle in mixed Jewish-Arab cities] objects to Sheikh Raed Salah visiting Lod for a lecture during Ramadan in Lod, we know we're talking about a vile and despicable character from the dregs of humanity," Albaz wrote. "Salah is a leader and a source of inspiration to me, and his visit will light up the city of Lod, despite the opposition of the terrorists from the Garin Hatorani, who disseminate hatred everywhere."
On Sunday, he also participated in a conference on developments at Al-Aqsa in Lod's Great Mosque, where he expressed anger at Israel for "interfering" at Al-Aqsa mosque and criticized their use of weapons and stun grenades at the third-holiest site in Islam.
"Imagine what would have happened if they had done this in a synagogue," Albaz added, with his attorney stating that this comment was meant as opposition to such actions at any religious site.
The compound has witnessed a spike in violence in the site sacred both to Muslims and Jews during Ramadan. A minority of worshipers threw stones and set off fireworks from the site, prompting a rare incursion by Israeli security forces into the mosque itself.
Meanwhile, Israel Police were documented cracking down on Palestinians with excessive force, though they halted a far-right march through the Old City's Muslim Quarter and have detained Jews seeking to pray and even perform ritual sacrifice at the site.
Despite this, Jordan argues that Israel is violating the status quo at the compound, which is under its custodianship, by allowing Jewish prayer at the site.
Last year in June, Albaz stood trial for incitement over a video he shared on Facebook of two police officers being killed, with the comment: "The best way to deal with injustice."
The indictment noted that Albaz expressed "praise, identification and encouragement for violent acts," and that there was "a real possibility" that his comments would result in violence given that they came immediately in the wake of skirmishes across mixed Jewish-Arab cities in Israel, coinciding with Israel's war with Gaza in May.
The charges against Albaz also include making threats against Deputy Mayor Yossi Harush in a dispute over building a road in the city. According to the indictment, in an open letter to Mayor Yair Revivo, Albaz "propose[d] that you restrain your thugs because your provocations will take us back a month. You will pay the price for these actions. And as for the war you are threatening us with, Yossi Harush – we promise you that we will be responsible enough to make you understand that we will give up our souls freely in order to educate you and to stop your bullying."
In December 2021, Albaz also was convicted of assaulting a Lod resident, lawyer Hanan Hadad, in connection to the same dispute. According to the verdict, Albaz attacked Hadad in 2018 after the lawyer appealed the appropriation of his land for the new road, claiming that the route of the road was changed to comply with Albaz's interests and in order to avoid a confrontation with the imam. According to the ruling, Albaz told Hadad that "I'll drive over your body, blood will be spilled," before striking him with a stone and hitting him.
The Israel Police will "continue to act against riots, violence, as well as incitement to riots and violence on the internet and elsewhere," the police spokesperson said on Saturday.