Palestine: International outrage follows Israeli minister’s visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque complex
By Harun Nasrullah
The Muslim News: The entry of Israel’s far-right security minister into the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex in occupied East Jerusalem earlier this week has sparked international condemnation, with many countries, including the UAE, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey, issuing statements of condemnation and the US expressing concern. The UK has not made any comment.
The visit by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has led to holding of UN Security Council meeting (called by the UAE and China), expected to convene today.
Ben-Gvir told the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth that Israel’s new administration, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would “not succumb to Hamas threats” after visiting the third-holiest shrine in Islam on January 3 in under the protection of Israeli forces.
“Temple Mount is the most important site for the people of Israel, and we maintain our freedom of movement there,” he added.
Ben-Gvir had earlier postponed the visit to Al-Aqsa, which had been planned for the previous day, after a phone call with Netanyahu, who retook the government reins after an election in early November.
The Palestinian group Hamas said it would hold Israel responsible for any consequences of Ben-Gvir’s planned visit.
Ben-Gvir holds far-right views on the Palestinians and has in the past called for their displacement. He has repeatedly joined Israeli settlers in storming the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex in East Jerusalem. The far-right politician also caused a wave of escalation in the occupied city after setting up an office in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. He has also in the past been convicted of incitement to racism and terrorism.
Last November, Israeli President Isaac Herzog warned in a leaked audio clip that “the whole world is worried” about Ben-Gvir’s extremist views.
The US, Israel’s closest ally, expressed deep concern over the recent developments.
“We’re deeply concerned by any unilateral actions that have the potential to exacerbate tensions precisely because we want to see the opposite happen,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a news conference.
“We want to see tensions reduced. We want to see tensions diminish,” he said.
“The United States stands firmly for the preservation of the historic status quo with respect to the holy sites in Jerusalem,” Price told reporters.
Any “unilateral actions” undercutting the historic status quo are “unacceptable,” he said.
The visit has the “potential to exacerbate tensions and to provoke violence,” he said. “We continue to be deeply concerned by that very intensifying violence in the West Bank.”
The White House spokeswoman, Karine Jean-Pierre, told reporters that the US stands firmly “for the preservation of the status quo with respect to holy sites in Jerusalem.”
“Any unilateral action that jeopardises the status quo is unacceptable, and we will continue to be steadfast on that and be very clear on that,” she said.
Jordan summoned the Israeli ambassador, and in a statement, its Foreign Ministry spokesman Sinan Majali said the Israeli envoy was handed a letter of protest over Ben-Gvir’s visit “to be delivered immediately to his government.”
The letter demanded that “Israel, the occupying power, adhere to its obligations under international law and the international humanitarian law towards the occupied city of Jerusalem and its sanctities, especially the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
It also warned that the ongoing violations and attacks on holy sites “would lead to further escalation as they represent a dangerous path and must stop immediately.”
The Saudi Foreign Ministry also joined the wave of condemnation over “the provocative action by an Israeli official who stormed” the flashpoint site. Netanyahu has frequently expressed hope for progress in normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which has conditioned the establishment of diplomatic ties between the countries on the creation of a Palestinian state.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, and his Emirati (Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan) and Qatari (Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani) counterparts discussed the incident during a phone call on January 4.
A spokesman for the Turkey ministry said, “During the phone call, the ministers also reiterated their condemnation of the storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque by an Israeli minister. They underlined the importance of preserving the status and sanctity of holy places in Jerusalem and increasing coordination against such unacceptable acts,” it added.
Emphasizing the “need to provide full protection for Al-Aqsa Mosque and halt serious and provocative violations taking place there,” the two ministers “called upon the Israeli authorities to assume responsibility for reducing escalation and instability in the region.”
“The UAE strongly condemned the storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyard by an Israeli minister under the protection of Israeli forces,” the country’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kanaani on Tuesday “strongly condemned the sacrilege of Al-Aqsa Mosque” by the cabinet minister.
Kanaani said that “Beit-ul-Moqaddas is an integrated and eternal capital of Palestine and any sacrilege of Palestinian holy sites constitutes a violation of international regulations and is an insult to the values and sanctities of Muslims around the world and will be faced with reaction from Muslim nations.”
The European Union Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process, Sven Koopmans, tweeted that the “internationally agreed” status quo on the holy sites in Jerusalem along with Jordan’s custodianship over these sites “are essential to regional peace, stability and the equilibrium between the major religions in Jerusalem.”
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has postponed his official visit to the UAE scheduled for next week.
It would be the premier’s first official visit to the UAE after the new Israeli government headed by Netanyahu was sworn in last week in coalition with right-wing parties following elections in November.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem, where al-Aqsa is located, during the 1967 Arab Israeli War. It annexed the entire city in 1980 in a move never recognised by the international community.
[Photo: Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. Photo by David Denberg/Creative Commons]
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