Wave of international criticism after Ben Gvir visits Temple Mount hotspot

There was a wave of international condemnation on Tuesday after National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s morning visit to the Temple Mount site, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, as police reportedly increased its alert level in Jerusalem.

Jordan, which sees itself as a custodian of the Temple Mount, a status Israel does not recognize, though it acknowledged the kingdom’s “special role” at the site in the countries’ 1994 peace treaty, said it strongly condemned the visit of the far-right minister. .

“Jordan condemns in the strongest terms the assault on the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the violation of its sanctity,” the Jordanian Foreign Ministry said in a statement, according to the Reuters news agency.

Ben Gvir did not enter the mosque. He made a 15-minute visit to the Temple Mount compound around 7 a.m. more weight.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Israel responded to the minister’s visit by saying that the status quo on the holy sites must be maintained and that Jerusalem understood Washington’s position on the matter.

“Ambassador Nides has been very clear in discussions with the Israeli government on the issue of preserving the status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem. Actions that prevent that are unacceptable,” the spokesperson said.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visits the Temple Mount, January 3, 2023 (Courtesy of Minhelet Har Habayit)

The United Arab Emirates condemned Ben Gvir and denounced his “assault on the courtyard of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.” The Gulf nation also called for an end to “serious and provocative violations.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to visit soon United Arab Emirates on his first official trip, but was postponed on Tuesday for “logistical reasons.” The officials denied there was any connection between the cancellation of the trip and Ben Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount, the Ynet news site reported.

The Saudi Arabian Foreign Ministry also joined the wave of condemnation of “the provocative action of an Israeli official who broke into” the hotspot site. Netanyahu has frequently expressed the hope that progress in normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which has conditioned the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries to the creation of a Palestinian state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on January 3, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The French embassy in Israel confirmed its “absolute commitment” to the preservation of the status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem.

“Any gesture intended to cast doubt carries a risk of escalation and must be avoided,” the French statement read.

The UK issued a similar statement, with Israel’s envoy Ambassador Neil Wigan tweeting: “The UK remains committed to supporting the historic status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem. It is important that all the actors avoid actions in those places that inflame the tensions”.

However, an official in the Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu pledged to “strictly protect the status quo on the Temple Mount without any changes.”

The official said that Israel “will not surrender to Hamas directives” and noted that, as part of the status quo, ministers have visited the Temple Mount in the past, including former public security minister Gilad Erdan.

“The claim that there is a change in the status quo is unfounded,” the official concluded.

Ben Gvir’s visit came hours after reports said he had agreed to postpone his planned trip following a meeting with Netanyahu, and despite opposition condemnation and threats from the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group.

According to Channel 12 news, police raised their alert level in Jerusalem in the hours after Ben Gvir’s visit. There was no official announcement about it.

The Temple Mount is widely believed to be the historic location of the two Jewish temples, making it the holiest site in Judaism. It is also the third holiest place for Muslims, who refer to it as the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex or the Noble Sanctuary.

Many Palestinians reject the notion that the site is sacred to Jews, having accused Israel and the Zionists for around a century of conspiring to destroy the mosque and replace it with a Jewish temple, a move that is not supported. of mainstream Israeli society.

Israel captured the Temple Mount and the Old City of Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War, nearly two decades after Amman captured it during the 1948 War of Independence. Israel, however, allowed the Jordanian Waqf to will continue to maintain religious authority on top of Mt.

Alleged provocations and violence at the site have frequently escalated into broader conflagrations.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, who on Monday warned the visit would lead to bloodshed, he said Ben Gvir had highlighted weakness on Netanyahu’s part.

“The State of Israel does not accept dictates from anyone regarding its security, but fighting with half the world just so that Ben Gvir can spend 13 minutes on the Temple Mount is politically irresponsible and an incredible weakness of Netanyahu in front of his ministers, Lapid tweeted.

Visitors to the Temple Mount on January 3, 2023 (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Diplomats from several unnamed Arab states reportedly contacted Jerusalem ahead of Ben Gvir’s visit to express concern, saying such steps could lead to a deterioration of the security situation in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the wider region. .

The Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry condemned the visit on Tuesday, calling it an “unprecedented provocation and a dangerous escalation of the conflict.”

“Netanyahu is responsible for this attack on Al-Aqsa,” the Palestinian Authority said in a statement.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh claimed that such “raids” were an attempt to “turn Al-Aqsa Mosque into a Jewish temple.”

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh holds a briefing with foreign press at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on November 10, 2021. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

Netanyahu discussed with Ben Gvir on Monday the latter’s declared intention to visit the site. The content of the conversation was not made public. A statement issued by Ben Gvir’s office after their talks said he would visit the Temple Mount “in the coming weeks.”

The visit by Ben Gvir, whose ministry is run by the police, followed an assessment with security and police officials, his office said in a statement.

“Our government will not surrender to threats from Hamas,” Ben Gvir said at the end of his visit, which reportedly lasted about 15 minutes and passed without immediate incident.

“The Temple Mount is the most important place for the people of Israel. We maintain freedom of movement for Muslims and Christians, but Jews also go up to the site, and those who make threats must be dealt with with an iron fist,” he said.

Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu (L) with Otzma Yehudit party leader MK Itamar Ben Gvir in a vote in the Knesset assembly hall in Jerusalem, on December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

The Hamas terror group had warned that a visit by Ben Gvir to the site would be a “trigger” and vowed resistance.

MK Zvika Fogel of Ben Gvir’s far-right Otzma Yehudit party was asked Tuesday during an interview with news outlet Ynet about the terror group’s possible reaction to the visit with rocket fire.

Fogel said that if this were to happen, “if it’s up to me, Gaza will burn.”

“We will begin a policy of selective assassinations of [Hamas] platoon commanders and above,” said Fogel, a former IDF general and designated chairman of the Knesset Public Safety Committee.

Otzma Yehudit MK Zvika Fogel in Jerusalem on November 14, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Fogel also said that despite a coalition agreement with Netanyahu’s Likud to maintain the status quo on holy sites, including the Temple Mount, Otzma Yehudit would raise the issue.

“I suppose in the future we will ask for a discussion in the government about changing the status quo,” he said.

On Monday, Otzma Yehudit lawmaker Almog Cohen told Kan public broadcaster that the faction’s “aspiration is, yes, God willing, all religions can pray on the Temple Mount.” . Reuters reported.

Ben Gvir has long been an advocate of formally altering the status quo of the Temple Mount, in which Muslims are allowed to pray and enter with few restrictions, while Jews can visit only for limited periods of time through a single gate and walk along a predetermined route, closely accompanied by police officers. Jews are not allowed to pray at the site or bring religious items or Israeli flags, although police have increasingly allowed silent prayers in recent years.

Israeli security forces escort a group of religious Jews as they visit the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem on March 31, 2022. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Palestinians and most of the international community vehemently reject any change in the current situation, although most Palestinians also oppose any Jewish-Israeli presence at the site, including police officers tasked with maintaining security.

Netanyahu has tried to assure Israel’s allies that he will not allow any changes, and included a clause in all his coalition agreements stipulating that the status quo “with respect to holy sites” will be preserved.

Ben Gvir is the leader of one of the three far-right parties in Netanyahu’s fledgling coalition.

The new national security minister, who has long been accused of being a provocateur, has made several trips to the Temple Mount as an activist and Knesset member and has also led controversial nationalist marches through the Muslim Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City. . On several occasions, he has set up an ad hoc office in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, which has also been at the center of Israeli-Palestinian tensions, sparking riots.

His last visit to the Temple Mount was about three months ago, before the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah.

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