Extremist Israeli minister visits sensitive Jerusalem holy site
A hardline Israeli minister visited a sensitive Jerusalem holy site on Sunday at a time of heightened tensions with the Palestinians.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s visit, his second known visit since becoming a member of Israel’s most right-wing government, drew condemnation from Palestinians and Israel’s neighbor Jordan. who acts as guardian of the site.
“I am happy to go up to the Temple Mount, the most important place for the people of Israel,” Ben-Gvir said during his morning visit to the site, with the golden Dome of the Rock in the background, according to the broadcast video. through his office. He praised the police presence at the site, saying it “proves who is responsible in Jerusalem.”
Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh called Ben-Gvir’s visit a “flagrant attack” on the mosque. The Jordanian Foreign Ministry called it “a condemned provocative step and a dangerous and unacceptable escalation”.
The visit comes days after Israelis marked Jerusalem Day, which celebrates Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. Flag-waving nationalists marched down the main Palestinian thoroughfare in Jerusalem’s Old City, some singing racist anti-Arab chants, while hundreds of Jews visited the sensitive hilltop shrine, including a low-level minister from Ben-Gvir’s party, but not Ben-Gvir himself .
Later Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet is expected to hold a special session to mark the occasion near the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray and an outer wall remaining from biblical temples.
Known to Jews as the Temple Mount, the hilltop site is Judaism’s holiest and home to ancient biblical temples. Today it houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. Since Israel seized the site in 1967, Jews have been allowed to visit but not to pray there.
The ultra-nationalist Ben-Gvir, along with a growing movement of activists, has long called for greater Jewish access to the holy site.
Palestinians view the mosque as a national symbol and view such visits as a provocation and a potential precursor to Israel’s takeover of the compound. Most rabbis forbid Jews from praying at the site, but there has been a growing movement in recent years from Jews supporting worship there.
Tensions in the contested compound have fueled the latest waves of violence. A visit by then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon in September 2000 helped spark clashes that became the second Palestinian uprising. Clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters in and around the site fueled an 11-day war with Hamas in 2021.
Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem, with its sites sacred to three monotheistic faiths, along with the rest of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians seek these territories for a future independent state, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in a move unrecognized by most of the international community and considers the city its undivided and eternal capital.
Violence between Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank has increased over the past year, as Israel launched near-night raids in response to a series of Palestinian attacks.
Over 250 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the spring of 2022. Around 50 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks on Israelis.
Israel says most of the Palestinians killed were militants, but young stone-throwers protesting the incursions and people not involved in the clashes were also killed.
Earlier this month, fighting also broke out between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip. Israeli strikes killed 33 people, many of them militants but also women and children, and two people were killed in Israel by militant rocket fire.