JERUSALEM: A top Israeli rabbi moved Tuesday to prevent Jewish activists from breaking a ban on holding a traditional Passover sacrifice at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound in annexed east Jerusalem.
The move by the rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, comes amid fears of violence at the holy site as the Jewish holiday coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which draws tens of thousands of worshippers to pray at Al-Aqsa.
“Following reports of intent to bring a Passover sacrifice up to the Temple Mount: Rabbi of the Western Wall to prevent bringing animals to the Mughrabi area,” said a statement from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.
The Western Wall is the holiest site where Jews can pray and sits below the mosque compound, which they revere as the Temple Mount.
Passover begins on Wednesday and traditionally sheep and goats are sacrificed on the eve of the Jewish holiday.
In previous years, Jewish activists have tried to smuggle animals into the mosque compound to reenact the sacrifice as described in the Bible.
“Under the direction of the rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, (we) will work to prevent bringing animals to the Mughrabi ramp area,” the Foundation said, referring to the entrance to the mosque compound used by non-Muslims.
The Returning to the Mountain movement, a radical Jewish group, said it will pay 20,000 shekels ($5,570) to anyone who succeeds in the “holy mission” of carrying out a sacrifice at the compound, Islam’s third holiest site.
The organization’s director was arrested Monday as a preventative measure, Israeli police said.
Israel’s Sephardi chief rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef, published a notice on Tuesday barring the faithful from visiting the Al-Aqsa compound because it is “a severe breach of Jewish law.”
The Islamist group Hamas, which rules Gaza, warned Monday that permitting Jewish sacrifice in the compound “would fuel an already explosive situation, for which the Israeli occupation government bears full responsibility.”