Controversial far-right Israeli politician Itamar Ben-Gvir visited the Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem on Tuesday, a move that could dramatically escalate tensions in the region.
The visit, under tight police control, was carried out early in the morning and in secret, an indication of the controversy surrounding it.
Mr Ben Gower, who was recently appointed minister of national security in Netanyahu’s new government, is the first Jewish minister to visit the holy site in five years. It has been condemned by the Palestinian Authority as an “unprecedented provocation”.
In recent days, Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza, warned that Mr. Bengwer’s visit would “blow up the situation.”
Former Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who was defeated in last November’s election, also warned against the visit, tweeting that it was a “deliberate provocation” that would “cost lives”.
In response, Mr. Ben Guerre said he was extending his visit because he would not be deterred by Hamas’ threats.
“Intimidators will be dealt with with an iron fist,” he warned in a statement after the visit. “The Jews shall ascend the mountain”.
Al-Aqsa Compound, known as Haram Sharif in Arabic, is a large plaza in the Old City of Jerusalem and is the third holiest site in Islam after Medina and Mecca.
To Jews, it is known as the Temple Mount, the site of the First Temple built by King David’s son Solomon.
The Western Wall, or “Kotel” in Hebrew, is the last remaining outer wall of the Temple and thus the holiest site in the Jewish faith. As such, the site has long been contested between Muslims and Jews, who both claim it.
Israel captured the site from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War, but Jordanians remain official custodians of the site under a 1994 peace accord.
Under this sensitive situation, only Muslims are allowed to offer prayers inside the Haram Sharif and others are allowed to enter during strict hours during the day. Jewish prayer is strictly prohibited at the site, although there are several examples of it being ignored by minorities.
Mr. Ben-Goverr has repeatedly claimed that preventing Jews from praying on the Temple Mount is an act of racism and said he would seek to change the laws to allow them to do so.
Relations between Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan have been strained in the past, and Mr. Ben-Goverr’s visit will worsen it, especially in his soon-to-be new term as Israeli prime minister.
In a separate incident, Israeli soldiers shot and killed a 15-year-old Palestinian boy in a battle near Jerusalem on Tuesday.
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