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Israel criticized for silencing call to prayer from Al-Aqsa Mosque

The move reportedly came after the agency that oversees Jerusalem’s holy sites refused to voluntarily turn off loudspeakers for a ceremony at the Western Wall.

Muslim worshippers pray during the first Friday of the holy month of Ramadan at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, on April 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

AMMAN, Jordan (RNS) — Israeli police broke locks and cut the electric lines to the loudspeakers at four minarets in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque Tuesday (April 13), silencing evening calls to prayer the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which coincided with the Israeli national remembrance for its fallen soldiers at the nearby Western Wall.

Ayman Safadi, Jordan’s minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, deplored the disruptions, which are violations of agreements about the shared use of the site, revered by Jews as the location of the ancient second Jewish temple and by Muslims as the place the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

Safadi said that the provocations “included breaking the locks of the mosque’s doors, namely the door of the Chain Gate and the door leading to the roof of the Islamic museum, as well as cutting the wires of the external speakers in the western part of Al-Haram,” using an alternative name for the mosque.

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The ministry’s spokesperson, Daifallah al-Fayez, confirmed Wednesday that the ministry issued an official protest, deploring the Israeli police’s actions.

The move reportedly came after officials of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, a Jordanian agency that oversees Jerusalem’s holy sites, refused to voluntarily turn off loudspeakers. They said the Israelis had wanted quiet while new soldiers prayed at the Western Wall.

Al-Fayez described the Israeli actions as a “provocation against Muslims around the world and a violation of international law and the historical status quo.”

According to Wasfi Kailani, the executive director of the Hashemite Fund for the Restoration of Al-Aqsa Mosque and a newly appointed member of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf Council, “this is the first time since 1967 that Israeli occupiers have sabotaged locks in order to enter the minarets and physically cut off the electricity to the loudspeakers.”

Israeli police didn’t respond to repeated requests by Religion News Service for comment.

The evening call to prayer began at 8:29 p.m., a half hour after a ceremony had begun in which newly inducted soldiers in the Israeli defense forces prayed at the Western Wall with high-ranking officials looking on. The event was part of the annual observance of Yom Hazikaron, when Israel pays tribute to Israel’s 23,928 fallen soldiers. 

Evening, or Isha, prayers draw Muslims to the mosque after they break their day’s fast, followed by the traditional tarawih, the ritual night prayers.

Naser Abu Sharif, a Waqf guard, said that electricity had been restored Thursday and that calls for prayers have resumed. Abu Sharif said that “Islamic Waqf officials in Jerusalem are considering a way to create wireless connections to the minarets’ loudspeaker so as to avoid this Israeli sabotage in the future.”

Hanna Issa, head of the Islamic-Christian Committee for Jerusalem, told RNS that the Israeli action is a violation of the 1998 Rome Convention and called on the international community to hold Israel to account.

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UNESCO’s executive board unanimously slammed the Israeli action during its 211th session of its plenary meeting Thursday, issuing a resolution stating that all Israeli activities aiming to change the character and legal status of the Old City of Jerusalem, where Al-Aqsa and the Western Wall are located, are null and void.

Al-Fayez said that the resolution was the result of diplomatic efforts undertaken by Jordan, the Palestinians and other Arab and Islamic organizations within UNESCO.

Israel is a signatory to numerous international treaties obliging it to respect the sanctity of holy places. The walls and the holy places in the Old City of Jerusalem are UNESCO World Heritage sites, and all parties are obliged to respect them without any change to the status quo. 

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