Israeli Islamic party suspends coalition gov't membership after weekend of violence

Israeli Islamic party suspends coalition gov't membership after weekend of violence
Israeli police clash with Palestinians inside Al-Aqsa Mosque compound after Israeli officers entered the compound before dawn as thousands of Muslims were gathered to perform prayers during the holy month of Ramadan, Jerusalem, on Friday. Photo by Jamal Awad/EPA-EFE

April 17 (UPI) -- A small Islamist party in Israel announced it was suspending its membership in the fractious coalition government on Sunday following a weekend of violence that erupted at a Jerusalem holy site between security forces and Muslims.

The suspension of the United Arab List party, known in Hebrew as Ra'am, further jeopardizes the future of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's government after it lost its slim 10-month majority in Israel's 120-seat Knesset legislature earlier this month when right-wing politician Idit Silman resigned on accusations it had strayed from conservative Jewish values.


The United Arab List party, which holds four seats in the Knesset, indefinitely pulled its membership Sunday in coordination with the offices of Bennet and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid after a meeting of its religious advisors over violence that more than 150 Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, it said.


The suspension threatens the coalition government with the potential of a vote for its dissolution, which would send Israelis back to the polls for the fifth time in three years.

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However, the Knesset is in recess until May 8, during which time the Ra'am may choose to undo its decision.

Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, a political alliance of four Arab-majority parties in Israel, mocked the suspension online.

"Not to go to the Knesset on vacation," he tweeted. "A dramatic decision."

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The United Arab List suspended its membership after some 170 people were injured since Friday at the compound of Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is holy to both Muslims and Jews, who called it the Temple Mount.

At least 22 people were injured, five of whom were hospitalized, on Sunday in the vicinity of Al-Aqsa Mosque following "confrontations" between Palestinians and Israeli security forces, the Palestine Red Crescent Society said.

Police said hundreds of "young people, some of them masked" had entered the compound early Sunday to attempt to block access to the mosque.

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Some also threw rocks at buses passing nearby through the Old City, resulting in damage to the vehicles with an unknown number of people sustaining minor injuries.


In response, offices "acted" on the scene, arresting four people for throwing rocks, two for assaulting police and further arrests for assaulting civilians in the old city as well as violating public order.

The Israel Foreign Ministry posted video online of protesters throwing rocks at two buses and a second video of Jewish worshipers being attacked in the old city.

In response, Bennett increased security for busses to the Western Wall and the Old City, stating the goal is to ensure the security of all citizens throughout the country.

"The security forces are continuing to receive a free hand from the political echelon for any measure to ensure security for the citizens of Israel," he said in a statement. "We are working to calm things down on the one hand and are taking vigorous action against violent individuals on the other."

"Security forces are ready for any scenario," he said.

More than 150 people were injured and some 400 were arrested at the site on Friday amid a rare convergence of religious holiday for Christians, Jews and Muslims as they celebrated Easter, Passover and Ramadan.

Police fired rubber bullets at Palestinians throwing stones at officers who had expelled thousands of worshippers gathering there for dawn Ramadan prayers.


King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein of Jordan called on Israel to stop "provocative measures" in the mosque and respect "the existing historical and legal situation," according to a statement from his office.

"His majesty stressed that maintaining the comprehensive calm requires Israel's respect for the historical and legal situation in the [Al-Aqsa Mosque], and the creation of a real political horizon that guarantees the fulfillment of all the legitimate rights of the brotherly Palestinian people on the basis of the two-state solution," he said.

Abdullah also said protecting Jerusalem and its holy sites are a Jordanian priority. The site was captured from Jordan in the late 1960s.

Lior Haiat, the spokesman for Israel's ministry of foreign affairs, said Israel was preserving freedom of religion at the holy sites of the three religions as they simultaneously celebrate their holy days.

"Any attempt to falsely show otherwise is to provide support to Palestinian terrorist organizations and criminals," he said in a statement. "With their behavior, these same bodies demean the spirit of Islam."

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