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Jerusalem's grand mufti: Israel wrong to block Al-Aqsa Mosque

In rare interview, Al-Aqsa Mosque's Sheikh Hussein speaks out against Israel's actions.

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Sheikh Mohammed Ahmad Hussein, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Orator of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, says he's concerned about the escalation of tensions in Jerusalem. He stands here against a sweeping picture of Jerusalem in his office.

Ilene R. Prusher / The Christian Science Monitor

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As grand mufti of Jerusalem and orator of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Sheikh Mohammed Ahmad Hussein has the power to sway millions of Muslims.

But in his three years since being appointed mufti – a title that dates to the British Mandate and bestows guardianship over the Islamic holy places here – Sheikh Hussein has been relatively reserved. He chooses his words carefully, stays above the political fray, and, despite his ability to issue , has not made any Islamic rulings that have engendered controversy.

Which is why, when he now says that Israel is creating tension in the holy city and endangering the Al-Aqsa Mosque, it's a sign that things are not business as usual in the disputed capital at the heart of the Middle East conflict.

"We are always giving a message of peace, of avoiding violence, of no aggressiveness," the mufti said in a rare interview on Thursday. "But the Israeli authorities are continually taking aggressive actions and creating a situation that leads to conflict."

Sheikh: Wrong move by Israel

Most unacceptable, he says, is Israel's move last week – not for the first time – to limit access to the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock complex to men over the age of 50. Israeli police say it's a temporary but necessary measure to keep out rabble-rousers looking to disturb the peace for Jewish, Christian, and Muslim worshippers seeking access to the city's elbow-to-elbow religious sites.

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