5 things you need to know about al-Aqsa

Al-Jazeera
July 24, 2017

The last couple of weeks have seen daily demonstrations and confrontations between Israeli forces and Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Tensions have risen in occupied East Jerusalem's Old City after Israel shut down al-Aqsa Mosque compound for the first time since 1969, after a deadly gun battle between Palestinian citizens of Israel and Israeli forces.

The attack, which took place on July 14, ended in the deaths of two Israeli police officers and three Palestinian attackers. Israel subsequently closed the site for Friday prayers and reopened it the next Sunday with new measures of control, including metal detectors and additional cameras, at the compound's entrances.

Palestinians have been refusing to enter the compound until Israel removes the new measures, which are being seen as the latest move by Israel to impose control and Judaise the city. They have been praying outside the gates in protest for more than a week.

During Friday prayers on July 21, thousands of Palestinians came out to pray in the streets outside of Lion's Gate, one of the entrances to the Old City. Tensions raged after peaceful demonstrations were violently suppressed by Israeli forces, resulting in hundreds of injuries. Four Palestinians have so far been shot dead in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, one of whom was shot by an Israeli settler.

The following is a breakdown of why the al-Aqsa Mosque compound is a constant point of contention in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

What is al-Aqsa Mosque compound and why is it important?

Al-Aqsa is the name of the silver-domed mosque inside a 35-acre compound referred to as al-Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, by Muslims, and as Temple Mount by Jews. The compound lies in the Old City of Jerusalem, which has been designated a World Heritage site by the United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, and is important to the three Abrahamic religions.

The site has been the most contested piece of territory in the Holy Land since Israel occupied East Jerusalem, including the Old City, in 1967, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, the conflict dates even further back, to before the creation of Israel.

In 1947, the UN drew up a partition plan to separate historic Palestine, then under British control, into two states: one for Jews, mainly from Europe, and one for Palestinians. The Jewish state was designated as 55 percent of the land, and the remaining 45 percent was for a Palestinian state.

Jerusalem, which houses al-Aqsa compound, belonged to the international community under the administration of the UN. It was granted this special status for its importance to the three Abrahamic religions.

The first Arab-Israeli war broke out in 1948 after Israel declared statehood, capturing some 78 percent of the land, with the remaining areas of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza coming under Egyptian and Jordanian control.

Israel's increasing encroachment on the land intensified in 1967, after the second Arab-Israeli war, which resulted in the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, and eventually the illegal Israeli annexation of Jerusalem, including the Old City and al-Aqsa.

The illegal Israeli control of East Jerusalem, including the Old City, violates several principles of international law, which outlines that an occupying power does not have sovereignty in the territory it occupies.

Over the years, the Israeli government has taken further steps towards controlling and Judaising the Old City and East Jerusalem as a whole. In 1980, Israel passed a law that declared Jerusalem the "complete and united" capital of Israel, in violation of international law. Today, no country in the world recognises Israel's ownership of Jerusalem or its attempts to change the geography and demographic makeup of the city.

Palestinians in Jerusalem, who number around 400,000, hold only permanent residency status, not citizenship, despite being born there - in contrast with Jews who are born in the city. And since 1967, Israel has embarked on a quiet deportation of the city's Palestinians by imposing difficult conditions for them to maintain their residency status.

Israel has also built at least 12 fortified Jewish-only illegal settlements in East Jerusalem, housing some 200,000 Israelis, while rejecting Palestinian building permits and demolishing their homes as punishment for building illegally.

The compound's religious significance

For Muslims, the Noble Sanctuary hosts Islam's third holiest site, the al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Dome of the Rock, a seventh-century structure believed to be where the Islamic Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

Jews believe the compound is where the Biblical Jewish temples once stood, but Jewish law and the Israeli Rabbinate forbid Jews from entering the compound and praying there, as it is considered too holy to tread upon.

The compound's Western Wall, known as the Wailing Wall to Jews, is believed to be the last remnant of the Second Temple, while Muslims refer to it as al-Buraq Wall and believe it is where the Prophet Muhammad tied the Buraq, an animal upon which he ascended to the sky and spoke to God.

The site's status quo

Since 1967, Jordan and Israel agreed that the Waqf, or the Islamic trust, would have control over matters inside the compound, while Israel would control external security. Non-Muslims would be allowed onto the site during visiting hours, but would not be allowed to pray there.

But rising Temple movements, such as the Temple Mount Faithful and the Temple Institute, have challenged the Israeli government's ban on allowing Jews to enter the compound, and they aim to rebuild the Third Jewish Temple in the compound.

Such groups are funded by members of the Israeli government, though it claims a desire to maintain the status quo at the site.

Today, Israeli forces routinely allow groups, some in the hundreds, of Jewish settlers who live in the occupied Palestinian territories to descend on the al-Aqsa compound under police and army protection, stirring Palestinian fears of an Israeli takeover of the compound.

In 1990, the Temple Mount Faithful declared it would lay a cornerstone for the Third Temple in place of the Dome of the Rock, leading to riots and a massacre in which 20 Palestinians were killed by Israeli police.

In 2000, Israeli politician Ariel Sharon entered the holy site accompanied by some 1,000 Israeli police, deliberately reiterating Israeli claims to the contested area in light of then Prime Minister Ehud Barak's US-brokered peace negotiations with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, which included discussions on how the two sides could share Jerusalem. Sharon's entrance to the compound unleashed the Second Intifada, in which more than 3,000 Palestinians were killed.

And most recently in May, the Israeli cabinet held its weekly meeting in tunnels below al-Aqsa Mosque, on the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, "to mark the liberation and unification of Jerusalem" - a move that infuriated Palestinians.

Israel already restricts Palestinian entry into the compound through several methods, including the separation wall, built in the early 2000s, which restricts the entry of Palestinians from the West Bank into Israel.

Of the three million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, only those over a certain age limit are allowed access to Jerusalem on Fridays, while others must apply for a hard-to-obtain permit from Israeli authorities. The restrictions already cause serious congestion and tension at checkpoints between the West Bank and Jerusalem, where tens of thousands must pass through security checks to enter Jerusalem to pray.

The latest measures, including the new metal detectors, are seen by Palestinians as part of Israel's efforts to impose further control on the site, and are a violation of the freedom to worship, protected under international law, according to experts.

President Mahmoud Abbas recently announced that the Palestinian leadership had frozen all contact with Israel due to the growing tensions at al-Aqsa compound, saying relations would not resume until Israel removed all security measures.

Recent tensions

Tensions have been simmering near al-Aqsa for the past two years. In 2015, clashes broke out after hundreds of Jews tried to enter the mosque complex to commemorate a Jewish holiday.

A year later, protests also erupted after visits by Jewish settlers groups at the compound during the last 10 days of Islam's holy month of Ramadan, in contravention of tradition.

Most clashes in the compound have occurred because of Israeli settlers trying to pray within the compound, which directly violates the status quo.

Over the last two weeks, Israeli forces fired live ammunition, tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets at Palestinians demonstrating against the imposed measures, including the barring of Muslim men under the age of 50 from the holy site.

Following the recent events, Israel has deployed 3,000 Israeli police and border police units around the compound.

The greater context

Al-Aqsa is just a small area within Palestine, but it is a symbolic part of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Though the mosque itself is significant for Muslims especially, even Palestinian Christians have protested against Israeli encroachment on the compound, joining Muslims in prayer outside of Lion's Gate on Friday.

"The issue of al-Haram al-Sharif stands as a symbolic, but very strong catalyser of the routine of injustice and oppression that Palestinians in Jerusalem are facing, and that causes a continuous eruption of popular anger and uprisings," Yara Jalajel, a former legal adviser to the Palestinian minister of foreign affairs, told Al Jazeera.

Recent clashes near al-Aqsa compound have also led to protests and violence throughout the West Bank and Gaza.

With more restrictions placed on Palestinian access to the compound and ongoing calls by Israeli religious groups to allow Jews to pray at the site, many Palestinians fear a possible division of the compound.

The Waqf stated on Wednesday that the longer Israel delays the removal of the new measures, the worse.

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Media Release
September 15,2020

Mangaluru, Sept 15: Most Rev Dr Peter Paul Saldanha, Bishop of catholic diocese of Mangalore, celebrated his second Episcopal Ordination anniversary, on 15 September 2020, by presiding over the Eucharistic celebration held at our Lady of Dolours  chapel, Kodialbail, Mangalore.

Kodialbail chapel also celebrated its annual feast along with the occasion in a very simple manner. Bishop in his homily highlighted the seven sorrows of Mother Mary and gave a call to accept our sufferings of life, with the intercession and inspiration from Blessed Virgin Mary.

After the mass, Msgr Maxim L Noronha felicitated the bishop on behalf of Mangalore diocese. He   said that the bishop has begun his Episcopal ministry and definitely he will lead the diocese on the right path. The Bishop has identified himself with the people of other faith in the society, through Bandhutva and Laudato Si Campaigns. Bishop Emeritus Most Rev Dr Aloysius Paul D Souza offered a bouquet of flowers as part of his felicitation.

Fr Victor Vijay Lobo, the Chaplain of Kodialbail Chapel read out the names of the donors and proposed a vote of thanks.

All the consulters of Bishop, resident priests from Bishop House and few devotees were present for the Mass.

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News Network
September 16,2020

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Palestinian resistance fighters in the Gaza Strip have traded strikes with the Israeli military as the signing of contentious normalization treaties between Tel Aviv and two Arab regimes provokes another flare-up in the blockaded territory.

Palestinian Arabic-language Ma’an news agency, citing local sources, reported that Israeli fighter jets and helicopters bombed a training base run by the Hamas resistance movement northwest of Beit Lahiya town early on Wednesday.

Eyewitnesses confirmed that huge explosions were heard in the northern Gaza Strip before the site caught fire.

The sources noted that Israeli warplanes carried out four air raids against the site, while three others were launched by choppers.

Later, Israeli jets targeted another Hamas-run site in an area located between Deir al-Balah city in the central Gaza Strip and Khan Yunis in the southern sector of the Palestinian enclave.

There were no immediate reports of casualties in either attack.

The raids came shortly after Palestinian resistance fighters in the Gaza Strip fired a barrage of rockets into the Israeli-occupied territories.

Reacting to the news of the fresh flareup, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that the overnight rocket fire was meant to undermine Israel's deals with Arab states.

"They want to prevent peace, they won't. We will hit everyone who tries to harm us, and we will extend a hand of peace to all who reach out to us to make peace," Netanyahu said in a statement

‘A message of resistance’

Following the Israeli warplanes’ latest bombardment of the enclave, Hamas issued a warning to the Tel Aviv regime.

"The occupation (Israel) will pay the price for any aggression against our people or resistance sites and the response will be direct," said the resistance group in a statement.

"We will increase and expand our response to the extent that the occupation persists in its aggression," Hamas added on Wednesday.

The Palestinian rockets triggered sirens in the cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod, potentially sending hundreds of thousands of Israelis rushing to bomb shelters just as Netanyahu was signing agreements at the White House with Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani.

Two people were reportedly injured and several more treated for shock after a rocket slammed into a street in Ashdod, according to Israeli media.

Palestinians, who seek an independent state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, view the US-brokered deals as a betrayal of their cause.

Mohammad al-Hindi, a senior official with the Gaza-based Islamic Jihad resistance movement, said “the Gaza rockets are a message that this great vanity of the United States and Israel will be shattered by the Palestinians and that the final word is for those in the right.”

Hamas also said in a statement that the Palestinian nation “insists on continuing its struggle until it secures the return of all of its rights.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also protested the normalization deals with Israel, stating they will not foster peace in the Middle East as long as the United States and the Israeli regime do not recognize the rights of the Palestinian nation to establish an independent and sovereign state based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem al-Quds as its capital.

The Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli land, air and sea blockade since June 2007, after Hamas, which has vowed to resist Israeli occupation, won the elections and rose to power in the enclave.

Since imposing the siege, Israel has also waged three wholesale wars against Gaza, killing and wounding thousands of Palestinians in each.

The crippling blockade has caused a sharp decline in the standard of living as well as unprecedented levels of unemployment and unrelenting poverty in the strip.

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News Network
September 23,2020

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Riyadh, Sept 23: Saudi Arabia on Wednesday suspended air travel to and from India, Brazil and Argentina, in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the country's Civil Aviation Authority, people with travel history to any of the mentioned countries 14 days prior to their arrival to the Kingdom, have also been barred.

"Suspending travel to and from the following countries (India, Brazil, and Argentina) including any person who has been in any of the mentioned countries in the last (14) days prior to their arrival to the Kingdom," General Authority of Civil Aviation said in a statement.

However, those who have official government invitations are excluded.

Saudi Arabia to re-allow umrah pilgrimage

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has allowed pilgrims residing inside the country to undertake the umrah pilgrimage beginning on October 4, after a seven-month pause due to coronavirus concerns, state news agency SPA reported.

Umrah is an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina undertaken any time of the year, attracting 19 million people last year.

Saudi Arabia had instituted a freeze on umrah in March.

It will now allow 6,000 citizens and residents inside the kingdom to perform umrah daily, representing 30% of a revised capacity of 20,000 that takes into account precautionary health measures, SPA added. That will expand to 75% of capacity on October 18.

Beginning November 1, Saudi Arabia will allow visitors from specific countries deemed safe to perform umrah at 100% of the revised capacity, until the end of the pandemic, SPA said.

This year, Saudi Arabia conducted a limited haj, the larger pilgrimage that usually attracts around 3 million people, for a few thousand citizens and residents.

Official data show haj and umrah earn the kingdom about 12 billion USD a year.

On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia reported 330,798 total cases of coronavirus and 4,542 deaths, as cases in the Gulf region topped 800,000.

Global COVID-19 cases

The overall number of global coronavirus cases has topped 31.5 million, while the deaths have increased to more than 969,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.

As of Wednesday morning, the total number of cases stood at 31,517,087 and the fatalities rose to 969,578, the University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) revealed in its latest update.

The US is the worst-hit country with the world's highest number of cases and deaths at 6,896,218 and 200,786, respectively, according to the CSSE.

India comes in second place in terms of cases at 5,562,663, while the country`s death toll soared to 90,020.

The other top 15 countries with the maximum amount of cases are:

             Brazil (4,591,364)

             Russia (1,111,157)

             Colombia (777,537)

             Peru (768,895)

             Mexico (705,263)

             Spain (682,267)

             South Africa (663,282)

             Argentina (652,174)

             France (507,150)

             Chile (448,523)

             Iran (429,193)

             UK (406,058)

             Bangladesh (352,178)

             Saudi Arabia (330,798)

             Iraq (327,580)

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