The Palestinians have called a far-right Israeli minister’s visit to a holy site in Jerusalem under dispute a “provocation of unprecedented proportions.”
A contingent of police followed National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir around the site as he made his way around. Ben-Gvir has advocated taking a tougher stance towards the Palestinians.
Israel and the Palestinians are at odds over who has ownership of the compound.
With the election of a more nationalistic government in Israel, tensions have increased.
Five days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government took office, Mr. Ben-Gvir made its first public appearance.
There are three mosques on the hilltop, but the third is the holiest to Muslims. Jewish people refer to it as the Temple Mount, after the two temples that were there in the Bible, while Muslims call it Haram al-Sharif, after the place where Muhammad ascended to heaven. Muslim pilgrims revere the entire site as the holy al-Aqsa Mosque.
Jews and other non-Muslims are allowed to visit the compound, though they are not permitted to pray there. Nonetheless, Palestinians view Jewish visits as attempts to disrupt the peace.
For a long time, Mr. Ben-Gvir, leader of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, has expressed a desire to alter the regulations so that Jewish worship is permitted there.
With a picture of himself inside a security cordon and the golden Dome of the Rock in the background, he tweeted, “The Temple Mount is open to everyone.”
Mr. Ben-Gvir has stated that he will push for “equal rights for Jews” in Israel if Benjamin Netanyahu is re-elected in November.
Mr. Netanyahu has, however, tried to reassure Israel’s friends that he will not permit any changes. His coalition agreements include a provision guaranteeing the status quo “with regard to the holy places.”
After Mr Ben-Gvir consulted with Mr Netanyahu and security officials, the trip was given the green light.
The Palestinian foreign ministry condemned what it called “the storming of al-Aqsa mosque by the extremist minister Ben-Gvir and views it as unprecedented provocation and a dangerous escalation of the conflict” after the 15-minute tour.
Palestinian Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh called for “thwarting the raids that aimed at turning the al-Aqsa Mosque into a Jewish temple,” calling Mr. Ben-visit Gvir’s a “violation of all norms, values, international agreements and laws, and Israel’s pledges to the American president.”
The Palestinian militant Islamist group Hamas, who rule the Gaza Strip, condemned the act as a “crime” and vowed that the site “will remain Palestinian, Arab, Islamic,” as reported by the AFP news agency.
Mr. Ben-Gvir tweeted an open defiance to Hamas, saying, “No Israeli government that I’m a member of is going to bow to a despicable and murderous terror organisation… and if Hamas thinks that I’ll be deterred by its threats, it needs to accept that times have changed and that there’s a government in Jerusalem.”
The 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas began when tensions between Israelis and Palestinians at the site reached a boiling point in May 2021. Hamas then fired rockets at Jerusalem.
Palestinians were outraged when Israeli right-winger and opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the site in 2000. The subsequent violence erupted into the second Palestinian intifada.
In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif is the most volatile spot. Located in what was then known as East Jerusalem, it was taken from Jordan by Israel in the Six Day War of 1967. With careful planning, Jordan has been allowed to continue its historic role as custodian, while Israel has taken charge of security and access.
Only Muslim prayer was permitted, but restrictions on Jewish visitors were lifted. For Palestinians, the status quo has been eroded in recent years due to actions taken by Israel, such as the frequent sightings of Orthodox Jewish visitors praying quietly without interference from Israeli police.
Palestinians assert that an increase in Jewish tourism to the area is part of a covert plan to seize control of the holy site.