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Israel police question to Muslim cleric

JERUSALEM -- Israeli police detained the top Muslim cleric in the Holy Land yesterday in a rare crackdown on a leading religious figure, questioning him for several hours before releasing him without charge.

Later in the day, in the Gaza Strip, an influential Muslim cleric from Qatar received a hero's welcome in a high-profile visit that deepened the division between Gaza's hardline Islamist rulers and the West Bank's Western-backed Palestinian leaders.

The detention of the mufti of Jerusalem, which followed recent unrest at a disputed holy site in the city, was condemned by Palestinian leaders and threatened to complicate Secretary of State John Kerry's effort to restart peace talks.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the mufti, Mohammed Hussein, was questioned for six hours in connection to "recent disturbances" on a hilltop compound in Jerusalem's Old City that is revered by Jews and Muslims. This included "incitement, disturbances and public disorder."

Hussein was freed without being charged, Rosenfeld said. He did not elaborate, but another Israeli official said the cleric was issued a warning and told to lower tensions a day after Muslim worshippers threw rocks and chairs at tourists visiting the hilltop compound that houses the Al Aqsa Mosque.

Hussein, who was appointed mufti in 2006, could not be reached for comment.

The mufti of Jerusalem is the top cleric in charge of Jerusalem's Islamic holy places. Hussein has been known as a relative moderate, with close ties to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who appointed Hussein, said, "Arresting the mufti is a stark challenge to the freedom of worship."

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