Israeli far-right minister visits Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Palestinians slam ‘provocation’

Israeli police secure the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound shortly after Itamar Ben-Gvir toured the site on January 3, 2023.
Israeli police secure the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound shortly after Itamar Ben-Gvir toured the site on January 3, 2023. © Maya Alleruzzo, AP

Israel's extreme-right firebrand Itamar Ben-Gvir visited Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound Tuesday for the first time since becoming national security minister, his spokesman said, enraging Palestinians who see the move as a provocation. 


"Our government will not surrender to the threats of Hamas," Ben-Gvir said in a statement published by his spokesman, after the Palestinian militant group warned such a move was a "red line".

The Palestinian foreign ministry said it “strongly condemns the storming of Al-Aqsa mosque by the extremist minister Ben-Gvir and views it as an unprecedented provocation and a dangerous escalation of the conflict".

The Ynet news website carried pictures of Ben-Gvir touring the site under heavy security.

Israel's opposition leader and former prime minister Yair Lapid had warned that such a visit by Ben-Gvir would spark violence.

The Al-Aqsa mosque compound is the third-holiest place in Islam and the most sacred site to Jews, who refer it as the Temple Mount.   

"The Temple Mount is the most important place for the people of Israel, and we maintain the freedom of movement for Muslims and Christians, but Jews will also go up to the mount, and those who make threats must be dealt with – with an iron hand," Ben-Gvir said. 

Only Muslim worship is allowed at the site, and there was no indication that Ben-Gvir had prayed during his visit. 

Ben-Gvir was sworn in last week as part of a new government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that includes far-right and religious parties. 

An official in Netanyahu’s office said on Tuesday that the prime minister is committed to "strictly keeping the status quo" at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. 

The official said ministers had visited the compound in the past in keeping with the status quo, which allows Muslims to worship and other religious peoples only to visit.  

A White House National Security Council spokesperson said on Tuesday that any unilateral action that jeopardizes status quo of Jerusalem holy sites is “unacceptable”.

Flashpoint site 

Lying within Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, the compound is administered by the Waqf Islamic affairs council, with Israeli forces operating there and controlling access. 

Ben-Gvir has lobbied to overhaul management of the site to allow Jewish prayer there, a move opposed by mainstream rabbinical authorities. 

Waqf guards told AFP that Ben-Gvir was accompanied by units of the Israeli security forces, while a drone hovered above the holy site. 

While Ben-Gvir has visited the compound numerous times since entering parliament in April 2021, his presence as a top minister carries far greater weight. 

A controversial visit in 2000 by then opposition leader Ariel Sharon was one of the main triggers for the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, which lasted until 2005. 


Ahead of Ben-Gvir's visit, top Palestinian official Hussein Al Sheikh on Monday said it would be a "blatant and shameless provocation which requires a Palestinian, Arab and international response". 

Basem Naim, a senior Hamas official, last week warned such a step would be "a big red line and it will lead to an explosion". 

Hamas rules the Gaza Strip and in May 2021 an 11-day war broke out in the territory between Palestinian militants and Israel after violence at Al-Aqsa mosque.

Hundreds of Palestinians and dozens of Israeli police officers were wounded in the preceding clashes across east Jerusalem, initially sparked by restrictions on Palestinians gathering and possible evictions of residents. 

During this period Ben-Gvir rallied his supporters at Israeli settler homes in east Jerusalem, which has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War. 

For years seen as a fringe figure, the leader of the Jewish Power party entered mainstream politics with Netanyahu's backing. 

>> Israeli far-right leader Ben-Gvir gets national security minister post in Likud coalition deal 

Ben-Gvir has advocated for Arab Israelis deemed disloyal to the state to be expelled and for the annexation of the occupied West Bank. 

Until a few years ago he had a portrait in his living room of Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 29 Palestinian worshippers at a Hebron mosque in 1994. 

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and Reuters) 

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