THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published — Tuesday 6 January 2015
Last update 6 January 2015 4:05 am
JERUSALEM: The head of the world’s largest Islamic organization on Monday paid a rare visit to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, urging Muslims to follow suit and come to the city in a bid to strengthen Palestinian claims to the holy site.
The visit by Iyad Madani, secretary-general of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation, came at a sensitive time following months of tensions and violence surrounding the holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City. The hilltop compound is revered by Muslims.
Al-Aqsa is Islam’s third-holiest site after Makkah and Madinah.
“Coming to the mosque is a right for me as well as every Muslim,” Madani said. “It is our right to come here and to pray here. No occupation authority should take this right from us.”
Israel usurped East Jerusalem, including the Old City, in 1967, in a move that has not been internationally recognized. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
The hilltop compound housing Al-Aqsa lies at the heart of the dispute over Jerusalem.
While Madani’s predecessor, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, a Turk, also visited Jerusalem, visits by Saudi dignitaries are rare and need to be coordinated with Israel.