A Muslim leader from the central Israeli city of Lod was indicted for incitement on Friday over remarks celebrating Palestinians who "defend Al-Aqsa Mosque."
The indictment against Sheikh Yusuf Albaz, the imam at Lod's Great Mosque, came as the city's Arab residents demonstrated on Friday to mark the anniversary of the shooting death of a local man during a nationwide wave of violence in May 2021.
Albaz, who was arrested two weeks ago, said in a speech last month that Israel was "interfering" at Al-Aqsa Mosque, referring to clashes at the holy site in Jerusalem during Ramadan. He criticized Israeli forces' use of weapons and stun grenades at Islam's third-holiest site.
"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 sacred site to both Muslims and Jews has witnessed a spike in violence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. A minority of worshipers threw stones and set off fireworks, prompting a rare incursion by Israeli security forces into the mosque itself.
Albaz was also charged over a Facebook post hailing the "brave" Palestinians who confronted the Israeli forces, "preventing the dissection of Al-Aqsa with their blood."
The imam, who is affiliated with the outlawed northern branch of the Islamic Movement, also stood trial last year for incitement over a video he shared on Facebook of two police officers being killed, with a caption reading "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.
Hundreds of Arab Lod residents marched on Friday from the Great Mosque to the family home of Moussa Hassouna, who was shot dead last year during a violent riot in the city. The cases against five Jewish suspects were all closed, with prosecutors accepting their claims of self-defense.
The protesters flew Palestinian flags and also chanted in the memory of the Palestinian Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot to death Wednesday during clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants.