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Israeli extremist minister visits Jerusalem holy site


May 21, 2023

An extremist Israeli cabinet minister visited a sensitive holy site in Jerusalem on Sunday at a time of heightened tension with the Palestinians.

The visit by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, his second known visit since becoming a member of Israel’s most right-leaning government, drew condemnation from Palestinians and Israel’s neighbor Jordan, which acts as custodian of the site.

“I am happy to climb the Temple Mount, the most important place for the Israeli people,” Ben-Gvir said during his morning visit to the site, with the golden Dome of the Rock in the background, according to a video posted. through his office. He praised the police presence at the site, saying it «proves who is in charge in Jerusalem.»

The spokesman for the Palestinian presidency, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, called Ben-Gvir’s visit a «blatant attack» on the mosque. The Jordanian Foreign Ministry called it «a provocative step that is condemned and a dangerous and unacceptable escalation.»

Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir during the annual «march of flags» to mark «Jerusalem Day» on May 18.Ahmad Gharabli / AFP – Getty Images

The visit comes days after Israelis marked Jerusalem Day, which celebrates Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. Nationalists carrying flags marched along the main Palestinian thoroughfare in the Old City from Jerusalem, some singing racist anti-Arab chants, as hundreds of Jews visited the sensitive hilltop shrine, including a low-level minister from Ben-Gvir’s party, but not Ben-Gvir. the same.

Later on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet is expected to hold a special session to mark the occasion near the Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray and a remaining outer wall of biblical temples.

Known to Jews as the Temple Mount, the hilltop site is the holiest site in Judaism and home to ancient biblical temples. Today it houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. Since Israel captured the site in 1967, Jews have been allowed to visit but not pray there.

Ultranationalist Ben-Gvir, along with a growing movement of activists, has long called for greater Jewish access to the holy site.

Palestinians consider the mosque a national symbol and see such visits as provocative and a possible precursor to Israel taking control of the complex. Most rabbis forbid Jews from praying at the site, but in recent years there has been a growing movement of Jews supporting worship there.

Tensions at the disputed compound have fueled past rounds of violence. A visit by then opposition leader Ariel Sharon in September 2000 helped spark clashes that became the second Palestinian uprising. Clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters in and around the site fueled an 11-day war with Hamas in 2021.

Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem, with its holy sites for three monotheistic religions, along with the rest of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians seek those territories for a future state independent, with east Jerusalem as its capital. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognized by most of the international community and considers the city its eternal and undivided capital.

Violence between Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank has skyrocketed in the past year, as Israel launched near-nightly raids in response to a series of Palestinian attacks.

More than 250 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since spring 2022. Some 50 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks on Israelis.

Israel says most of the Palestinians killed were militants, but stone-throwing youths protesting the incursions and people not involved in the fighting have also been killed.

Fighting also broke out between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip earlier this month. Israeli strikes killed 33, many of them militants but also women and children, and two people were killed in Israel by militant rocket fire.