Israel far-right minister storms Al Aqsa Mosque compound

By AFP – May 22,2023 – JORDAN TIMES

The Old City of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock (right) and Al Aqsa Mosque (left) (AFP file photo)

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — Israel’s national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir visited the flashpoint Al Aqsa Mosque compound Sunday, a controversial move by the extreme-right politician amid heightened tensions in occupied East Jerusalem.

The move came three days after Ben-Gvir and tens of thousands of Jewish nationalists marched through the Old City and just over a week into a fragile Gaza ceasefire.

Al Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam and is administered by Jordan. Non-Muslims are permitted to visit the site, but not pray there.

Hamas denounced Ben-Gvir’s last visit to the site in January and again slammed his action on Sunday.

Israel will “bear responsibility for the barbaric incursions of its ministers and herds of settlers”, the group wrote on Telegram.

The move “confirms the depths of danger looming over Al Aqsa, under this Zionist fascist government and the arrogance of its ministers from the extreme right”, said Hamas.

Israeli forces confirmed Ben-Gvir’s visit in a statement, adding that it passed without incident.

Old City Cabinet meeting 

Later on Sunday, Israel’s top politicians held a rare Cabinet meeting in the tunnels beneath the Western Wall.

Palestinians fear their use as a vast museum threatens the foundations of Al Aqsa Mosque.

“Time and again, my friends and I have been forced to repel international pressure on the part of those who would divide Jerusalem again,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of the meeting.

Some Israeli leaders “were prepared to give in to those pressures”, he argued, but “we have acted differently”, according to a transcript from his office, celebrating the expansion of Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem which are deemed illegal under international law.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem as its capital, but the Palestinians want the eastern sector, which includes the Old City, as the capital of their future state.

Tours of the site by Jewish nationalists have long been criticised by Palestinians and Arab nations, while Ben-Gvir’s visits have taken on added weight since he took office in December.

The office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said “harming Al-Aqsa Mosque is playing with fire”.

“[It] will push the region into a religious war with unimaginable consequences that will affect everyone,” said Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, in a statement published by the Palestinian news agency Wafa.

The timing of Sunday’s visit also holds significance, coming days after extremists marched through the Old City to celebrate East Jerusalem’s capture by Israeli forces in the 1967 June War.

Thursday’s event was marred by incidents of violence against Palestinians and journalists, while the United States condemned “the hateful chants such as ‘Death to Arabs’” during the rally.

Ben-Gvir’s visit also follows a Cairo-brokered truce reached on May 13 between Israel and Islamic Jihad fighters in Gaza, ending five days of cross-border fighting.

Egypt’s foreign ministry on Sunday pressed Israel to “immediately stop the escalatory practices which inflame the pre-existing state of tension in the occupied (Palestinian) territories”.

The Gaza violence killed 33 people in the coastal territory.


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