Israeli lawmakers visit Al-Aqsa Mosque compound after two-year ban

COMPILED FROM WIRE SERVICES
ISTANBUL
Published 29.08.2017 11:38
Far right Israeli Rabbi and Israeli lawmaker Yehuda Glick (C-L) walks barefoot, escorted by Israeli police and supporters, inside the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, Aug. 29, 2017. (AFP Photo)
Far right Israeli Rabbi and Israeli lawmaker Yehuda Glick (C-L) walks barefoot, escorted by Israeli police and supporters, inside the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, Aug. 29, 2017. (AFP Photo)

Two Israeli lawmakers have visited one of Jerusalem's most contentious holy sites Tuesday for the first time in two years.

The visit, which passed peacefully, was meant to test the waters as Benjamin Netanyahu's government mulls whether to allow such visits to Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to resume. They were banned in late 2015 for fear of sparking tensions.

The site has been at the center of recent tensions after Israel installed, then removed, metal detectors following the deadly shooting of two Israeli policemen. Muslims administer the compound, home to the Al Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, while Jews can visit but not pray there.

The site – known as Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) – is considered the third holiest in Islam. Jews also view the site as holy, calling it the Temple Mount.

The Israeli Prime Minister's Office announced in a statement released late Wednesday that the decision was made based on the improved security situation at East Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque complex.

Ruling party politician Yehuda Glick, who has called for building a Jewish temple in the Al-Aqsa compound, has actively pressured the government to allow visits to resume.

Glick's repeated visits to the site – and the stance of other right-wing Israeli politicians on the issue – has been a source of tension with Palestinian Muslims.

The visit ban, which had applied to both Jewish and Muslim Knesset members, was first imposed October 2015 amid a months-long spate of violence that left at least 200 Palestinians and 40 Israelis dead.

Violence first erupted after the Israeli authorities closed the holy site to Muslim men under 50 during a period of Jewish holidays in September 2015.

At the time, Palestinians had accused Israel of attempting to alter the site's historical system of prayer and visiting rights, referred to as the "status quo".

The Waqf, the Jordan-run authority in charge of the mosque, had accused hardline Jewish visitors of regularly "storming" the Al-Aqsa complex after the Israeli authorities unilaterally resumed visits to the site following the eruption of the Second Intifada (Palestinian uprising) in 2000.

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