JERUSALEM – Sheikh Ekrema Sabri, an imam and preacher at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, hailed the “wise Turkish policy” towards the occupied city and called on others to emulate it.

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, the imam, who is currently visiting Turkey, praised the country’s “centuries-long” relationship with Palestine, saying it “has been strengthened more through its wise policy of extending bridges of brotherhood with the Arab world” as well as supporting “fateful Palestinian causes.” He singled out the Turkish approach as the kind of policy that Palestinians “always demand.”

Speaking of the Turkish people’s love for Al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem, Sabri said his time in Turkey will include visits to cultural and media institutions in the country that are interested in learning about Islam’s third holiest site.

-Al-Aqsa entry bans ‘unjust’

Sheikh Sabri condemned the recent Al-Aqsa entry bans by the Israeli authorities which he personally experienced several times, calling them “unjust,” “exclusionary” and “strange” policies unprecedented in the world.

“The aim,” he said, “is to empty Al-Aqsa of officials and activists” and “silence opposition” towards intrusion by Jewish extremist groups while also “psychologically punishing” Palestinians.

He complained that intrusions have recently increased and enjoy the support of the Israeli government, which “escorts” them.

“Al-Aqsa is for Muslims alone, and the Jews have nothing to do with it,” he said, adding “there is no room for negotiation or forfeiting an iota of dirt from it.”

– Need for Islamic narrative about Jerusalem

According to Sheikh Sabri, several Jewish extremist institutions have promoted their own “false narrative” about Jerusalem which has garnered wide support, including in Palestine and Arab countries. A “clear” and “detailed” Islamic narrative about Jerusalem is therefore urgent “to keep the Islamic masses informed about it,” stressed Sabri, while also expressing hope that “Muslims’ attachment to Al-Aqsa has grown stronger.”

Moreover, Sabri challenged the media to promote the Islamic narrative and knowledge on Al-Aqsa “on a daily basis” and “in several languages” to keep the younger generations more connected to the holy site.

“Muslims” he said, “love Al-Aqsa, but if you ask a Muslim about the history of Jerusalem and its status, he may not know it,” highlighting the importance of going beyond emotional attachment to the site and learning about its history.

-Enter Al-Aqsa through right doors

Last week, Anadolu Agency reported that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been maneuvering for control of Al-Aqsa by taking advantage of the recent normalization deal it signed with Israel, moves that have escalated rivalry for the religious control of the holy site in favor of Israel.

This was reflected in a joint statement from the US, UAE and Israel in August which said “all Muslims who come in peace may visit and pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque, and Jerusalem’s other holy sites should remain open for peaceful worshippers of all faiths.”

Ironically, the UAE acts in concert with the Israeli settlers and the far right in an attempt to undermine the authority of the Jordanian and Palestinian Supreme Muslim Council over the holy site.

On Oct. 18, a delegation from the UAE visited Al-Aqsa Mosque under the protection of Israeli forces, prompting criticism from Palestinian Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh.

“Al-Aqsa Mosque shall be entered through the gate of its owners [Jordanian and Palestinian authorities], not through the gate of the Israeli occupation,” Shtayyeh protested.

On its part, Abu Dhabi seeks to legitimize its normalization deal with Israel by promoting the idea that the agreement gives Muslims more freedom of access to visit the holy mosque.

Sheikh Sabri echoed Shtayyeh’s concerns, warning of the danger of visiting Al-Aqsa Mosque through coordinating with the Israeli occupation, as it does not have the right to grant entry permits.

*Ibrahim Mukhtar contributed to this report from Ankara

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