February 2, 2023
Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel's far-right new minister of national security in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government, attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, 3 January 2023. Atef Safadi/Pool via REUTERS

Temple Mount is Open

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Israel’s far right national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir declares that the revered site is open to all Christians, Muslims and Jews drawing strong condemnation from Western and Islamic nations

Israel’s new far-right national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir briefly visited Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem on Tuesday, a site also revered by Jews, angering the Palestinians and drawing a flood of global condemnations from the West and Islamic world.

“The Temple Mount is open to all,” Ben-Gvir said on Twitter, using the Jewish name for the site. Video footage showed him strolling at the periphery of the compound, surrounded by a heavy security detail and flanked by a fellow Orthodox Jew.

Israel’s new far-right national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir briefly visited Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem on Tuesday, a site also revered by Jews, angering the Palestinians and drawing a slew of condemnations.

“The Temple Mount is open to all,” Ben-Gvir said on Twitter, using the Jewish name for the site. Video footage showed him strolling at the periphery of the compound, surrounded by a heavy security detail and flanked by a fellow Orthodox Jew.

When asked about the visit, a White House National Security Council spokesperson said any unilateral action that jeopardizes the status quo of Jerusalem holy sites is unacceptable.

In an apparent effort to lower the temperature, an official in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the premier was fully committed to the site’s decades-old status quo allowing only Muslim worship there.

An Israeli official said the 15-minute visit by Ben-Gvir, a senior member of Netanyahu’s new nationalist-religious cabinet, complied with an arrangement that allows non-Muslims to visit but not pray.

Ben-Gvir once advocated ending the ban on Jewish prayer at the sensitive site, but has been non-committal on the issue since aligning with Netanyahu. Other members of Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power party still advocate such a move.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he would seek a U.N. Security Council condemnation, a statement published by the Palestinian WAFA News Agency said.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “calls on all to refrain from steps that could escalate tensions in and around the holy sites,” said U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq.

Jordan, the custodian of Al Aqsa and whose 1994 peace deal with Israel is unpopular at home, summoned the Israeli ambassador and said the visit had violated international law and “the historic and legal status quo in Jerusalem.”

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh called on Palestinians to confront what he described as raids onto the compound and accused Ben-Gvir of staging the visit as part of a bid to turn the shrine “into a Jewish temple”.

Israel denies having such designs. An official at Netanyahu’s office said “claims of a change in the status quo are groundless”.

A spokesman for Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist group that rejects coexistence with Israel and which controls Gaza, said of the visit: “A continuation of this behaviour will bring all parties closer to a big clash.”

The leader of Lebanon’s powerful armed Hezbollah group, Hassan Nasrallah, said that any infringement of the status quo would lead to an explosion in the entire region.

The European Union’s Middle East envoy Sven Koopmans said the status quo must be maintained.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides “has been very clear in conversations with the Israeli government on the issue of preserving the status quo”, the U.S. embassy said in a statement.

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, both among the few Arab states to have recognised Israel, condemned the visit. Saudi Arabia, with which Netanyahu wants to forge a peace deal, also criticised Ben-Gvir’s action.

Turkey, which has recently ended a long-running diplomatic rift with Israel, condemned the visit as “provocative” as well.

Al Aqsa compound, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, is Islam’s third holiest site. It is also Judaism’s most sacred site, a vestige of two ancient Jewish temples.

Israel deems all of Jerusalem its indivisible capital – a status not recognised internationally. Palestinians want East Jerusalem, where the compound is located, as capital of a state also taking in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

On Tuesday, pious Jews fasted to commemorate a Babylonian siege on the first of those temples, in the 6th century BC.

Ben-Gvir oversees Israeli police who are formally tasked with enforcing the ban on Jewish prayer at the compound. He said that freedom of movement would be upheld there, without any mention of freedom of worship.

Source Reuters/

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