By Hamdi Yildiz
JERUSALEM (AA) – Israeli authorities banned 133 Palestinians from entering Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque in February, according to a report by a Palestinian non-governmental organization.
In its latest report, the Jerusalem-based Wadi Hilweh Information Center said Sheikh Abdul-Azim Salhab, who heads the Jerusalem Endowment Council, and Sheikh Najeh Bkerat, deputy director of Muslim Endowments and Al-Aqsa Affairs, were among those prevented from entering the mosque compound.
On Sunday, Salhab was banned from entering Al-Aqsa for 40 days, while Bkerat was barred for a four-month period.
The bans were announced a week after Israeli police briefly detained both men after raiding their homes in Jerusalem.
Some 229 people were also arrested in the same month, according to the report.
Tensions have mounted in Jerusalem since late last month, when Israel sealed the mosque compound’s Al-Rahma Gate, located adjacent to the eastern wall of Jerusalem’s Old City, sparking angry demonstrations by Palestinians.
For Muslims, Al-Aqsa represents the world's third holiest site after Mecca and Medina. Jews refer to the area as the "Temple Mount", claiming it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem, where Al-Aqsa is located, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It annexed the entire city in 1980 in a move never recognized by the international community.