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Israel police arrest Palestinian imam of Grand Mosque in Lod

The preacher was detained on suspicion of inciting violence, an allegation rejected by his lawyer
Sheikh Yusef al-Baz, 63, is a prominent religious leader in Lod (social media).

Israeli police arrested Sheikh Yusef al-Baz, the imam of the Grand Mosque in Lod, or Lydd as it is known to Palestinians, from his home in the early hours of Thursday.

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The preacher was detained on suspicion of inciting violence and is due to appear at the Rishon Lezion district court near Tel Aviv.

Israeli police said in a statement that it had arrested a suspect in reference to a clip shared on Facebook on 15 June that allegedly appears to call for violence against police, according to Anadolu Agency. The statement did not name the suspect.

Baz’s lawyer Khaled Zabarqa told Anadolu that the accusation is a “farce” and that the video in question is from a foreign film.

Israeli authorities had faced increasing calls in recent days by far-right figures in Israel to arrest Baz over his social media posts.

Itamar Ben Gvir, a far-right Israeli member of the Knesset, said on Twitter he was “delighted’ the police arrested Baz after he filed a formal complaint against the Palestinian preacher for “incitement”.

Baz, 63, is a prominent religious leader in Lod and an outspoken supporter of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, which was banned by Israel in 2015.

His arrest comes amid a security crackdown on Palestinian citizens of Israel who have participated in protests against Israeli aggression in Gaza and Jerusalem in recent weeks.  

At least 1,700 Palestinians were picked up since early May, according to monitoring group The Arab Emergency Committee, including prominent preacher Kamal Khatib.

Khatib, the vice president of the Islamic Movement in Israel, who was charged with incitement, remains in custody since his arrest in a violent raid on his home last month. 

In Rahat city in southern Israel, police and Shin Bet security forces stormed the house of Yusef Abu Jame, a member of the People’s Committee in Rahat and the Higher Orientation Committee for Arabs in the Negev, early on Thursday and handed him a summons for questioning, according to local reports

Lod on edge  

Baz’s arrest came two days after Israeli police dispersed a protest outside the Grand Mosque in Lod condemning the far-right Flag March on Tuesday. 

Translation: Israeli police forces assault worshippers in the vicinity of al-Omari Mosque in Lod preventing them from going out to march in support of Jerusalem.

Police assaulted demonstrators and surrounded the mosque, preventing participants from leaving, according to local reports. 

Last month, the Grand Mosque in Lod came under attack by Israeli ultra-nationalists as riots erupted in the city during the weeks-long escalation across Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories. 

Arab-Israelis gather outside a mosque in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Lod on May 13, 2021, to protect it from attacks by Israeli far-right extremist.
Demonstrators gather outside a mosque in the mixed Jewish-Palestinians city of Lod on 13 May 2021, to protect it from attacks by far-right Israel mob (AFP).

Lod, a Palestinian-majority city south of Tel Aviv, has remained on edge ever since. 

The family of Moussa Hassouna, who was killed during a confrontation with far-right Israelis on 10 May, have called for protests on Friday to mark the 40th day since his death.