By Laurie Kellman
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is not changing the norms at a contested site in Jerusalem to allow Jewish prayer there, his office said Monday, walking back comments that sparked angry reactions a day earlier.
Bennett, Israel’s new premier, had raised concerns on Sunday when he said Israel was committed to protecting “freedom of worship” for Jews at the hilltop compound. Under a long-standing practice, Jews are allowed to visit — but not pray — at the site, which they revere as the Temple Mount and which Muslims hold sacred as the home of the Al Aqsa Mosque.
Palestinians and the site’s Islamic authorities fear that Israel is slowly trying to take control of the area and have complained in the past that Jews continued to pray at the site. Friction remains high there after unrest helped spark the 11-day Israel-Hamas war in May.
Despite Bennett’s phrasing, the status quo holds, according to an official in the prime minister’s office who was not authorized to speak publicly and demanded anonymity.