1672754870 Wave of international criticism after Ben Gvir visits hotspot Temple

Wave of international criticism after Ben Gvir visits hotspot Temple Mount

There was a wave of international condemnation Tuesday after National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s morning visit to the Temple Mount hotspot, where Al-Aqsa Mosque is located, when police reportedly increased their alert level in Jerusalem.

Jordan, which considers itself the guardian of the Temple Mount – a status Israel does not recognize, although it recognizes the kingdom’s “special role” there in the countries’ 1994 peace treaty – said it strongly condemned the far-right minister’s visit .

“Jordan strongly condemns the storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the violation of its sanctity,” Jordan’s foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Portal.

Ben Gvir did not enter the mosque. He made a 15-minute visit to the Temple Mount grounds around 7 a.m. — during the time Jews are allowed to enter the grounds — which he has already done on numerous occasions, although Tuesday’s trip was his first as a minister, which meant that she was carrying more weight.

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

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“Ambassador Nides has been very clear in discussions with the Israeli government on the issue of preserving the status quo in Jerusalem’s holy sites. Measures that prevent this are unacceptable,” said the spokesman.

Wave of international criticism after Ben Gvir visits hotspot Temple

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 condemned his “storming of the courtyard of Al-Aqsa Mosque”. The Gulf nation also called for an end to “serious and provocative violations”.

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

The Saudi Foreign Ministry also joined the wave of condemnations for “the provocative action of an Israeli official who stormed the scene of the fire”. Netanyahu has frequently expressed hope for progress on normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which has made diplomatic relations between the countries conditional on the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Wave of international criticism after Ben Gvir visits hotspot Temple

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

The French Embassy in Israel reiterated its “absolute commitment” to maintaining the status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem.

“Any gesture aimed at casting doubt on them carries a risk of escalation and must be avoided,” the French statement said.

The UK issued a similar statement, with Israeli 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 actors avoid actions in these places that stoke 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 change.”

The official said that Israel “will not bow to Hamas directives,” noting that ministers have visited the Temple Mount in the past as part of the status quo, 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 comes hours after he reportedly agreed to postpone his planned trip after meeting Netanyahu, despite opposition condemnation and threats from Gaza’s ruling Hamas terror group.

According to Channel 12 news, police increased the alert level in Jerusalem in the hours following Ben Gvir’s visit. There was no official announcement on the matter.

The Temple Mount is considered by Jews to be the historic site of the two Jewish temples, making it the holiest site in Judaism. It is also the third holiest for Muslims, who refer to it as the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound or Noble Sanctuary.

Israel captured the Temple Mount and the Old City of Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. However, it allowed the Jordanian Waqf to continue to maintain religious authority on the mountain.

Provocations and violence at the site have often spread into larger wildfires.

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

“The State of Israel does not accept dictates from anyone regarding its security, but arguing with half the world just so that Ben Gvir can spend 13 minutes on the Temple Mount is political irresponsibility and incredible weakness on the part of Netanyahu towards his ministers. ‘ Lapid tweeted.

1672754850 815 Wave of international criticism after Ben Gvir visits hotspot Temple

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

Diplomats from several unnamed Arab countries reportedly contacted Jerusalem ahead of Ben Gvir’s visit to express their concerns, saying such moves could worsen the security situation in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the wider region.

The Palestinian Authority’s foreign ministry condemned Tuesday’s visit, calling it an “unprecedented provocation and a dangerous escalation of the conflict.”

“Netanyahu bears responsibility for this attack on Al-Aqsa,” the PA said in a statement.

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

1672754852 798 Wave of international criticism after Ben Gvir visits hotspot 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 on Monday discussed with Ben Gvir his stated intention to visit the site. The content of the conversation was not published. A statement issued by Ben Gvir’s office after their talks said he would visit the Temple Mount “in the coming weeks.”

According to Hebrew media reports, the two had agreed that Ben Gvir would stop visiting the seat of the fire for the time being. However, the Likud insisted that was not the case. Rather, after discussions with security officials, Netanyahu avoided recommending that the far-right minister refrain from visiting.

The visit by Ben Gvir, whose ministry is in charge of police, came after an assessment with security and police officials, his office said in a statement.

“Our government will not bow to Hamas’ threats,” 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 to the site and those who make threats must be treated with an iron fist,” he said.

Ben Gvir visits Temple Mount for first time as minister

Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu (L) with party leader Otzma Yehudit MK Itamar Ben Gvir during a vote at the Assembly Hall of the Knesset in Jerusalem December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Hamas terror group has warned that a visit by Ben Gvir to the compound would be a “detonator” and has vowed resistance.

MK Zvika Fogel of Ben Gvir’s far-right Otzma Yehudit party was asked during an interview with Ynet news agency on Tuesday whether the terrorist group might respond with rocket fire at the visit.

Fogel said if that were to happen, “If I have my way, Gaza will burn.”

“We will adopt a policy of targeted killing [Hamas] platoon commanders and above,” said Fogel, a former IDF general and chairman-elect of the Knesset Public Safety Committee.

1672754858 850 Wave of international criticism after Ben Gvir visits hotspot Temple

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 at holy sites, including the Temple Mount, the issue will be raised by Otzma Yehudit.

“I expect that in the future we will call for a discussion in government to change the status quo,” he said.

On Monday, Otzma Yehudit lawmaker Almog Cohen told Kan News that the “aspiration of the faction is, yes, God willing, that all religions be able to pray on the Temple Mount,” Portal reported.

Ben Gvir has long been a proponent of formally changing the Temple Mount status quo, allowing Muslims to pray and enter with few restrictions, while Jews can only visit through a single gate and walk along a predetermined route during limited windows of time, closely monitored by police accompanied. Jews are not allowed to pray on the premises, although in recent years police have increasingly observed police allowing silent prayer.

1672656267 449 New Police Minister Ben Gvir prepares to visit Temple Mount

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

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

Netanyahu has tried to reassure Israel’s allies that he will not allow any changes, and he has included a clause in all his coalition deals stating that the status quo “regarding the holy places” will be maintained.

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

Long accused of being a provocateur, the new national security minister has made several trips to the Temple Mount as an activist and member of the Knesset, and has also led controversial nationalist marches through the Muslim Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City. On several occasions, he 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 and fomenting unrest.

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