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Israel detains Muslim cleric over mosque disturbance

Tensions raised over questioning of grand mufti

JERUSALEM — Israeli ­police took the Muslim cleric in charge of Jerusalem’s Islamic holy places from his home early Wednesday and held him in custody for six hours to question him about a violent disturbance the previous day at al- Aqsa mosque, a move that increased tensions with Palestinians at a time when the United States is trying to revive peace talks in the Middle East.

The detention of the grand mufti of Jerusalem, a top Islamic leader, coincided with the public holiday called ‘‘Jerusalem Day,’’ when Israel celebrates the anniversary of its capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. He was released without charges being filed against him.

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The mosque is on the Temple Mount, a holy site for Muslins and Jews, and the scene of frequent clashes.

Although the grand mufti, Mohamad Hussein, has been detained by authorities before, it is rare to bring such a high level religious figure in for an interrogation. His detention provoked protests from Arab leaders.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad called the detention ‘‘a grave escalation in Israel’s relentless violations of international law and a belligerent assault, especially in light of the Mufti’s position as well as the high standing and symbolism of his office.’’

Jordanian lawmakers issued a nonbinding resolution to expel Israel’s ambassador from Amman.

According to Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, the incident began Tuesday when police detained an Israeli Arab who refused to present identification when entering the walled plaza that Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary and Jews call the Temple Mount.

No charges

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After his arrest, Rosenfeld said, a group of young men began to throw plastic chairs at a group of Israeli tourists who were visiting the plaza around the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque, considered the third most holy site in Islam. Two police officers were slightly injured.

Rosenfeld said Israeli tourists were on a routine visit and were not violating the regulations that non-Muslims refrain from praying, wearing religious symbols, or carrying flags at the site, which is also venerated by Jews as the site of the first and second temples.

The grand mufti was held for six hours, questioned under suspicion that he was involved in incitement to public disorder. He was released without charges, Rosenfeld said, who did not specify what he meant by possible incitement.

The detention came as Secretary of State John F. Kerry is lobbying both Israel and the Palestinians to restart long-stalled peace talks.

Kerry met Wednesday with Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who has emerged as a leader for possible negotiations. He met last week with an envoy for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, and with foreign ministers from several Arab states.

‘‘We are working through threshold questions. We are doing it with a seriousness of purpose that I think minister Livni would agree with me has not been present in awhile,’’ Kerry said in Rome, where the two diplomats arranged to meet.

Kerry said he would return to Jerusalem and the West Bank later this month to press the case. It will be his third such peacemaking mission since taking office in February.

Kerry has set no official deadline but made clear he wants to work fast.

He has urged both sides to make concessions that could build confidence and help Prime Minister Benjamin ­Netanyahu of Israel and Abbas steer around conditions that both sides have set.

Israeli media have reported that Netanyahu is holding off new settlement announcements in deference to Kerry, and the Palestinians agreed to postpone a possible complaint against Israel at the International Criminal Court.

‘‘We all believe that we’re working with a short time span,’’ Kerry said. ‘‘We understand the imperative to try to have some sense of direction as rapidly as we can.’’

Livni thanked Kerry for reviving a dormant process that she said is in Israeli and Palestinian interests to pursue.

‘‘Some of us lost hope and this something that we need,’’ Livni said.

Israel wants to see whether the new energy can help ‘‘after some years of stalemate,’’ she said. She added that the recent revival of a comprehensive peace offer from Arab states is ‘‘very good news.’’

US officials have said little about the details of Kerry’s proposals, but the 2002 Arab League peace offer is a pillar of the strategy.

Led by Qatar, a group of key Arab states reaffirmed the proposal at a meeting Kerry called in Washington last week.

The group agreed in principle that Arab states could make regional peace with Israel if it withdraws from land occupied since 1967, with minor mutually agreed changes to borders.

Israel never agreed to the original deal, in part out of concern that pre-1967 borders are now unworkable.

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