RAMALLAH: Israel’s ultra right-wing national security minister has been condemned as “provocative” and “dangerous” after visiting Al-Aqsa mosque in occupied Jerusalem on Sunday.
The visit by Itamar Ben-Gvir — his second since becoming a member of Israel’s government — was denounced as a flagrant challenge to the feelings of Muslims and Palestinians and Islamic and Arab sovereignty over the Al-Haram Al-Sharif.
Key institutions and Palestinian, Islamic and Arab officials denounced the move, as well as the holding of an Israeli Cabinet meeting inside the tunnel beneath the Western Wall.
Ben-Gvir entered the courtyards of Al-Aqsa Mosque and performed his prayers in the eastern region and the Bab Al-Rahma area for 30 minutes on Sunday, accompanied by the head of the “Temple Mount” organization manager.
The minister stated: “Hamas threats will not prevent us from being here. We are the owners of the house on the Temple Mount, and this belongs to us, and no one else, and it is important for everyone.”
The Israeli Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, held its weekly session at the Western Wall.
Netanyahu said: “Our meeting here today is a message to Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas), who said at the United Nations that the Jewish people have no connection with Jerusalem and that the east of the city is part of the areas of the (Palestinian) Authority ... 3,000 years ago.
“Jerusalem was our capital before London and Washington (existed).”
The Saudi Foreign Ministry strongly condemned Bin-Gvir’s visit as a flagrant violation of all international norms and covenants and a provocation to the feelings of Muslims around the world.
It held the Israeli forces fully responsible for the repercussions of the continuation of such abuses.
Jordan criticized Ben-Gvir’s actions as “provocative” and a “dangerous and unacceptable escalation” that represented “a flagrant and unacceptable violation of international law, and of the historical and legal status quo in Jerusalem and its holy sites.”
The Islamic Waqf echoed both government’s comments, adding that it was delusional to think such action would achieve his dreams and goals of Judaizing Al-Aqsa Mosque.
It said that the Cabinet meeting was equally a clear and systematic provocation against the city's Arab-Islamic history and heritage, he said.
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories, the preacher of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Mohammed Hussein, told Arab News that the incursions by ministers and Knesset members would not change the landmark’s existing legal, religious and historical status as an Islamic mosque for Muslims alone.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, official spokesman for the PA presidency, said the minister’s tour was a dangerous act, and called on the US, to take immediate action to restrain Israel.
The Israeli government has allocated a budget of $1 million to encourage entry into Al-Aqsa Mosque by extremists and $4.6 million to support excavations underneath and for the maintenance of existing tunnels.
Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said that the Israeli government’s weekly meeting was an escalation of the state’s religious war.
The Israeli army meanwhile has decided to officially allow settlers to return to the "Homesh" settlement in the northern West Bank, which the army evacuated in 2005.
On March 21, Israeli Knesset approved the Separation Law, allowing settlers to return to four settlements in the West Bank that were evacuated in 2005, reinforcing the legitimacy of random outposts in the northern West Bank.
Also on Sunday, Israeli settlers attacked Palestinian shepherds in the Al-Hamma area in the northern Jordan Valley while grazing their livestock by spraying them with pepper gas.
The mayor of Sebastia, Mohammed Azem, said that the Israeli authorities intend to implement the largest Judaization project for the archaeological site in the historic town of Sebastia, located north of the city of Nablus in the West Bank, at a value of $10 million.
“The occupation will eliminate the tourism sector in the town, and it will be limited to settlement tourism,” said the mayor. “It will also affect the economic situation because dozens of families in Sebastia live on tourism.”
Sebastia was the capital of the Romans in Palestine.
It is distinguished by its geographical location, which connects three governorates in the northern West Bank: Nablus, Tulkarem, and Jenin.
It is also on the Christian pilgrimage route from Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jacob's Well, and Nazareth.
The town is full of dozens of archaeological sites, including the Roman cemetery, the tomb of the Prophet Yahya and his mosque, the Cathedral of John the Baptist, the Al-Kayed Palace, as well as the Basilica Square, the Royal Palace, the Hellenistic Tower, the Temple of Augustus, the theater, Column Street and the stadium.