Hamas supporters remove leading PA Mufti from Al-Aqsa mosque

Muhammad Hussein was expelled by a public of angry worshipers after refraining from mentioning Hamas’ role and not commenting on the warfare in the Gaza Strip.

By Baruch Yedid, TPS

A wide wave of condemnation is being voiced from various elements in the Palestinian system following the removal of Muhammad Hussein, the Mufti of the Palestinian Authority (PA), from the prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque last Friday, by the worshippers.

Calls condemning Yasser Arafat, who is still considered the most important Palestinian leader, were also heard from the crowd at the mosque.

Muhammad Hussein was expelled by a public of angry worshipers after refraining from mentioning Hamas’ role and not commenting on the warfare in the Gaza Strip. The worshipers called out to him “out, we do not want to see the dogs of the Palestinian Authority.”

Last week, the PA instructed its clerics not to discuss events in the Gaza Strip in Friday sermons. Some preachers were criticized in mosques in the PA areas and provoked severe protest. PA head Mahmoud Abbas’ adviser on religious affairs, Mahmoud Habbash, is now facing a wave of derogatory remarks in the Authority.

The violence against the PA’s most senior cleric is of great concern to the leadership in Ramallah, as in recent weeks support for Hamas in eastern Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa Mosque has also been very prominent.

The removal of the Mufti also joins a long line of insults and humiliations against Abbas, now known in the eastern part of the city as a “traitor,” along with expressions of support for Muhammad Deif, commander of Hamas’ military wing. A source told TPS that recently it has been almost impossible to see the Fatah flags there and that they have been replaced by Hamas’ green.

Concern over the rise of Hamas in eastern Jerusalem is high among heads of families and public figures as well as among pro-Jordanian clerics. A number of public figures, Muslims and Christians, condemned the attack on the PA religious symbol. Abbas called the Mufti to voice his support. Hussein himself told the media that “he will not stop the task of defending al-Aqsa from the ‘occupation’ [i.e. Israel].”

Meanwhile, Fatah is trying to put the blame on Israel. Nasser Kos, head of the Prisoners’ Club and a senior Fatah official in Jerusalem, said that “it is the occupation agents who are working to break Palestinian unity and undermine Palestinian religious and national symbols.”

Mahmoud al-‘Alul, Abbas’ deputy in Fatah, also said that the Mufti’s attack “served the occupation.”

Senior Hamas official Hussam Badran referred to the incident over the weekend and called for “maintaining the remarkable achievement achieved in Gaza in the face of the occupation and respecting the national and religious symbols,” without mentioning the Mufti’s name.

Sources in Ramallah told TPS that “this is a further deterioration of the entire Palestinian system following the postponement of elections and in light of what appears to be a clear goal by Hamas to take control of the PA territories.”

In eastern Jerusalem, they try to defend the Mufti and describe him as standing at the forefront of the struggle, alongside the young people, against Israel.

Sources in the east of the city say that it seems that the extremist “Tahrir” people were the ones who expelled him, but others claim that Hamas is currently using its people and supporters in Jerusalem, among other things to ward off any sign of the Palestinian Authority’s presence.

The Tahrir movement is currently led by the extremist cleric, Azzam Amira, a resident of the village of Tzur Baher, who is still receiving a pension from the Israeli Ministry of the Interior.

The presence of Sheikh Kamal Khatib, the deputy chairman of the Islamic Movement, a member of the northern faction who was arrested a few days ago by Israel, also recently stood out in mosques.

Hafez Barghouti, a member of Fatah’s revolutionary council, said on the weekend, while hinting at Hamas’ direction, that “those who harmed the cleric are refraining from attacking the settlers but at the same time trying to ignite fire between Christians and Muslims in the Old City and provoke riots.”

Muhammad Hussein is considered the most important cleric on behalf of the Palestinian Authority and carries a blue Israeli identity card.

In the past, an Egyptian minister was attacked by “Tahrir” men who threw shoes at him when he went up to pray in al-Aqsa. The presence of the Tahrir people has been very noticeable in recent years and especially since the wave of violence began during the recent month of Ramadan.