Two top Islamic Waqf religious-authority representatives were reportedly arrested by Israeli police on Sunday following heated battles with Israeli security forces on the Har Habayis in Yerushalayim in the past week.
Sheikh Abdelazeem Salhab, the head of the Waqf council on the Har Habayis and Najah Bakirat, deputy head of the organization, were both arrested on Sunday morning.
Israeli Police have not confirmed the arrests, but Palestinian media shared images of the men being escorted from their homes on social media.
Jordan recently expanded its council in Israel from 11 to 18 seats, adding seven local Arab leaders, including Palestinian Authority officials, to the body that oversees the Islamic entities on the Har Habayis.
The arrests come after major rioting and tensions on the site. The current nucleus of the controversy is the Sha’ar HaRachamim (“Gate of Mercy”), which was made off-limits to Waqf use in 2003 after it was revealed that the people managing the site had ties with Hamas, and that illegal excavating underneath the gate had led to the destruction of priceless rare archaeological artifacts positively confirming the ancient Jewish connection to the site, where Jewish tradition teaches stood two Holy Temples.
On Feb. 14, the new Waqf met near the Gate of Mercy and then prayed at the location. Israel responded by summoning Waqf head Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib al-Tamimi for questioning, but then canceling the summons under pressure from Jordan.
Riots erupted on the Har Habayis four days later, with Muslim worshippers kicking down the locked gates and entering illegally.
Police responded by rushing the site, arresting rioters and closing the entire Har Habayis for three hours.
On Thursday night, police arrested some 60 people on suspicion of planning to inflame ongoing riots. However, it also opened Sha’ar HaRachamim area to prayer by Muslims for the first time in more than 15 years.
The Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques currently stand atop the site. Though Israel conquered the Har Habayis in the 1967 Six-Day War, it agreed to share control of the area with Jordan. The dual control has led to numerous clashes in recent years, along with controversy and critique on both sides of the debate over control of the holy sites.
Jewish entrance to and prayer at the Har Habayis is severely restricted, allowed only certain times and days of the year, with Waqf officials forbidding Jewish worshippers from even moving their lips in prayer or bowing down at the site. Violators are removed by Israeli police.