Police demolition of mosque incites riot as Israeli Arabs vow to rebuild


RIOTS ERUPTED at the weekend in the southern Israeli Arab city of Rahat as security forces destroyed a mosque.

Some 700 police in full riot gear used tear gas to disperse crowds who threw stones to try and prevent the demolition.

Residents observed a general strike yesterday in protest at the action, and large numbers of police remained in the Bedouin city of 52,000 last night to prevent fresh disturbances. Shortly after the demolition, residents began rebuilding the mosque.

Police claimed the mosque was constructed illegally with funds provided by the northern branch of Israel’s anti-Zionist Islamic movement. The destruction was carried out after a court ruled the building took place on state land without a permit.

Southern district police chief Cmdr Yochanan Danino, who supervised the operation, praised the police action. “We acted with resolve to enforce the rule of law and relayed a message that the Israel police will not ignore illegal activity, while remaining sensitive to the Muslims’ feelings.”

Police accused the Islamic movement of rejecting a compromise under which a mosque would be built at a nearby site, and of illegally connecting the mosque to the electricity grid. Rahat mayor Faez Abu Sahiban called the move “a direct offence against all Muslims and a flagrant violation of Rahat’s jurisdiction”. He said all four mosques in the city were built without relevant permits.

Yusuf Abu Jama, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic movement in Rahat, vowed that residents would rebuild the mosque every time the Israeli authorities destroy it. “Now the Islamic movement is unified, and Arabs from all over the country will come to show their solidarity,” he said.

In a separate development, Israel has charged an imam from a mosque in the northern city of Nazareth with incitement and links to global jihad terrorism.

The indictment, filed at the Nazareth magistrate’s court, accused Nazem Sahfe (45) of spreading global jihad, supporting al-Qaeda and encouraging his followers to attack non-Muslims. According to the charge sheet, one group of followers collected weapons to be used against Israeli soldiers as well as against Pope Benedict XVI, who visited Israel in 2009.

Mr Sahfe was arrested after one of the murderers of an Israeli cab driver last year told police he acted after attending one of the imam’s sermons.