Palestinians on Aug. 21 commemorated the 47th anniversary of an arson attack on al-Aqsa Mosque, with Palestinian officials emphasizing that the Muslim holy site is still under threat today. On Aug. 21, 1969, an Australian Christian fundamentalist set fire to a pulpit in al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem, aiming to bring about the second coming of Jesus Christ. In a press conference, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Sheikh Muhammad Hussein said that Israeli violations, which include detaining and killing Palestinians in al-Aqsa compound, allowing Israeli extremists to storm al-Aqsa, and demolishing Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, were "another type of fire which keeps burning the al-Aqsa mosque and the city of Jerusalem, and has been burning for 47 years."
Meanwhile, Palestinian governor of Jerusalem Adnan al-Husseini said that "the inability to solve the Palestinian issue until now hints at the dereliction towards the Palestinian cause and the lack of awareness of the dangers faced by the al-Aqsa Mosque and the entire Palestinian cause."
In the besieged Gaza Strip, the Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements organized a sit-in to mark the anniversary, during which Islamic Jihad leader Ahmad al-Mudalal said that Palestinian "resistance will always be in an open battle against Israeli occupation until the liberation of al-Aqsa Mosque." Al-Mudalal added that diplomatic efforts and agreements with Israel were "false options" which could not be taken seriously so long as Israeli authorities carried out violations at the al-Aqsa compound.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zahra added that "security cooperation with the Israeli occupation and the persecution of resistance parties are the biggest crimes against the liberation of Palestine and al-Aqsa Mosque."
The third holiest site in Islam, a-Aqsa is also venerated as Judaism's most holy place, as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood. While Jewish visitation is permitted to the al-Aqsa compound, non-Muslim worship is prohibited according to an agreement signed between Israel and the Jordanian government after Israel's illegal occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.
Despite this agreement, Israeli authorities regularly allow Jewish visitors to enter the site—often under armed guard. Such visits are typically made by right-wingers attempting to unsettle the status quo at the site, and coincide with restrictions on Palestinian access, including bans on entrance and detentions. In past weeks, Israeli authorities have also repeatedly cracked down on employees of al-Aqsa, detaining, summoning, and banning 21 Palestinian employees in the space of 10 days earlier this month.
From Ma'an News Agency, Aug. 21