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Tensions mount as Al-Aqsa remains closed

RAMALLAH: Palestinian religious and political figures have denounced the ongoing closure of Al-Aqsa mosque compound, calling it a violation of their religious freedoms, reported Al Jazeera.

Al-Aqsa remained closed on Saturday, a day after a deadly shooting attack outside an entrance to the holy site in occupied East Jerusalem.

“There is no excuse for the closure of Al-Aqsa mosque, and we oppose this decision,” said Sheikh Yusuf Idis, the Palestinian Authority’s minister of religious affairs. “The freedom to worship is a right guaranteed in law and any violation of that right is rejected.”

The compound has been shuttered by Israeli police since three Palestinian assailants shot and killed two Israeli policemen in Jerusalem’s Old City Friday morning. The attackers were subsequently shot dead by Israeli forces inside the compound.

It was the first time that Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa had been cancelled in decades, and Israeli authorities later extended the closure until Sunday at the earliest, citing security concerns.

Hundreds of additional Israeli forces were deployed in parts of the Old City and at checkpoints throughout. Many worshippers who had planned to pray at Al-Aqsa ended up praying in the streets of Jerusalem instead.

Al-Aqsa is sacred to both Muslims and Jews, who refer to the site as the Temple Mount.

The Jerusalem Mufti, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, was briefly detained by police and released on bail on Friday after he attempted to gain access to the site and led open-air prayers close to the compound.

Analysts warned that the decision to prohibit entry to the sacred site – which was last closed to Muslim worshippers in 2014, following the shooting of Yehuda Glick, a prominent Temple Mount activist who is now a Knesset member – would likely exacerbate tensions in the city in the short-term.

“This is a decision that aims to deter further attacks and it will be interpreted by most Palestinians as collective punishment,” said Ofer Zalzberg, a senior analyst for Israel/Palestine at the International Crisis Group.

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