Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Highly dangerous”: Retired Israeli officials warn of Al-Aqsa Mosque restrictions during Ramadan

A group of retired Israeli officials have warned about placing restrictions at Al-Aqsa Mosque during the holy month of Ramadan, cautioning the move could lead to "escalation and disturbances on a wide scale".

In a letter addressed to the government and intelligence officials, a group of “retired commissioners and superintendents” warned that plans to restrict “Palestinian citizens of Israel” from accessing the Jerusalem holy site would be highly dangerous.

“The exclusion of the Arab citizens of Israel from going up to pray on the Temple Mount could lead to escalation and disturbances on a wide scale,” read the letter, obtained by Channel 12.

“The recommendations of the Minister of National Security are motivated by ideological and electoral considerations and not by operational considerations.”

A proposal put forward by Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s far-right national security minister, to limit the entry of Palestinian citizens of Israel into the mosque was accepted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting with senior officials on Sunday, according to a Haaretz report.

The limitations will be based on criteria such as age and gender, the details of which are to be decided in the coming days.

Ben Gvir reportedly recommended that only Palestinian citizens of Israel above the age of 70 should be allowed into the mosque during Ramadan, which starts next month, while Israeli police recommended entry for those aged over 45.

He also proposed a complete ban on Palestinians from the occupied West Bank worshipping at Al-Aqsa during the holy month, although no decision has been made on this yet.

Among the signatories to Tuesday’s letter were former police commissioners, including Moshe Karadi, Shlomo Aharonishki, Assaf Hefetz and Roni Alsheich.

The letter added it was important “to learn and draw lessons from the events that took place on the Temple Mount in recent years.

“The Israel police knew in the past to allow the existence of prayers while limiting the number of worshippers but only on the basis of an intelligence and operational situational assessment,” it warned.

The proposals had already provoked a backlash from other sections of the Israeli establishment.

The Shin Bet security agency said last week that it opposed restrictions and instead favoured unrestricted access for Palestinian citizens of Israel.

During Ramadan last year, Israeli forces used stun grenades and fired teargas on worshippers at the mosque, before arresting hundreds of people.

And in May 2021, hundreds of Palestinians were wounded after Israeli troops stormed the compound and attacked worshippers during Ramadan with teargas, rubber-coated steel bullets and stun grenades.

The raids, as well as Israeli incursions in the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, sparked a major Israeli assault on the besieged Gaza Strip.

At least 256 Palestinians were killed in Gaza, including 66 children.

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