Netanyahu lifts ban on Israel parliament members visiting Al-Aqsa

Israeli settlers storm Al-Aqsa Mosque on 13 July 2017

Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has said that members of the Israeli Knesset (MKs) are allowed to visit Jerusalem’s Al-Haram Al-Sharif compound.

Spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority (PA), Yousef Al-Mahmoud, called Netanyahu’s decision a “blatant and serious provocation” which is “encouraging harm to one of Islam’s holiest sites,” according to Wafa.

Al-Mahmoud attributed Netanyahu’s emboldened stance to increased support by the US administration under President Donald Trump, adding that:

The occupation government under Netanyahu and the Trump administration are fully responsible for this dangerous escalation, which the Palestinian leadership and President Mahmoud Abbas have regularly warned against since it could lead the area into religious conflict.

The move will allow Israeli MKs to visit the Al-Aqsa compound once every three months. The decision seemingly dismantles a previous agreement between Israel and Jordan, the custodian of Al-Aqsa Mosque and Al-Haram Al-Sharif, which has restricted MKs’ access to the site since 2015.

READ: Israel Police set up watchtower at entrance to Al-Aqsa

Some MKs have visited the site during this period, including Yehudah Glick of the ruling Likud party and Shuli Moalem-Refaeli of the religious-Zionist Jewish Home party. Glick congratulated Netanyahu on his overturning of the decision, and called on him to make “a real change and allow MKs to go to the Temple Mount whenever they want,” according to the Times of Israel.

Aggression against Al-Aqsa - Cartoon [Sarwar Ahmed/MiddleEastMonitor]

Despite restrictions on visits to the site by MKs and Jewish Israelis, Haaretz reports that “the past year has seen an increase in the number of Jewish visitors” to the compound. Figures from Yeraeh, an organisation which encourages Jews to visit the site, show that more than 22,000 Jews have visited Al-Haram Al-Sharif since last September, the highest number since Israel occupied the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967.

Allowing Israeli MKs to visit Al-Haram Al-Sharif is the latest in a string of Israeli challenges to the status quo on the compound. In April, Jerusalem’s Magistrate Court ruled that Jews storming Al-Aqsa can chant patriotic slogans such as “Am Yisrael chai” (the people of Israel live) as this does not count as religious prayers. It is forbidden under the status quo agreement for Jews to worship on the compound.

Similarly in May, a group of extreme Israeli settlers stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyard on the first day of Ramadan, under the protection of Israeli forces. The General Director of the Jerusalem Endowment and Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs Department, Sheikh Azzam Al-Khatib, said that worshippers and scholars from the compound, alongside Al-Aqsa guards, confronted the settlers and security forces.

READ: Al-Aqsa guards arrested as settlers storm the mosque

(Source / 04.07.2018)

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