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Israel protests Chilean president's holy site visit

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Jerusalem (AFP)

Israel protested to Chile on Wednesday after President Sebastian Pinera visited a highly sensitive Jerusalem holy site alongside a Palestinian minister.

Pinera, on a visit to Israel and the West Bank, toured the Al-Aqsa mosque complex on Tuesday, with images on social media showing him accompanied by Palestinian officials, including Jerusalem affairs minister Fadi al-Hadami.

The status of Al-Aqsa, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and located above the Western Wall, is one of the most sensitive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is the holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest for Muslims after Mecca and Medina, administered by the Muslim Waqf but secured by Israeli police.

According to Foreign Minister Israel Katz, Chilean Ambassador Rodrigo Fernandez was rebuked for Pinera's visit taking place "in violation of the regulations and a prior agreement."

"The freedom of worship, which Israel observes more than anyone else has, should be separated from safeguarding our sovereignty on the Temple Mount," he said in a Wednesday tweet.

Foreign dignitaries normally coordinate their visits to the volatile site with Israeli officials.

An official source in the Chilean delegation said the visit was a "private" one, in which "formally, only the delegation from Chile participated."

Pinera, who landed in Tel Aviv on Monday, was due to meet with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later in the day.

Israel occupied mainly Palestinian east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

It sees the entire city as its capital, while the Palestinians view the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.

Chile is home to the world's largest expatriate Palestinian community.

Pinera will meet with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah on Thursday before taking off for Japan.

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