Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, UAE condemn Israel minister Ben-Gvir's storming of Al-Aqsa compound
Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates were among nations to condemn the storming of occupied East Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Tuesday by Israel's new extreme-right national security minister.
The move by firebrand Itamar Ben-Gvir has enraged Palestinians, while the United States warned of steps which may harm the status quo.
The Palestinian foreign ministry called Ben-Gvir's attendance at the site a "serious threat", while Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh cast it as a bid to turn Al-Aqsa Mosque "into a Jewish temple".
Addressing his cabinet, Shtayyeh also called on Palestinians to "confront the raids into Al-Aqsa Mosque" after Ben-Gvir toured the periphery of the mosque compound. The extremist minister did not approach the mosque.
The Qatari foreign ministry said in a statement that Doha "condemns in the strongest terms" Ben-Gvir's "storming of the courtyards of Al-Aqsa Mosque under the protection of the Israeli occupation authorities".
"It considers this act a flagrant violation of international law and the Hashemite Custodianship over the holy sites in occupied Jerusalem," the statement added, referring to Jordan's role in overseeing the city's sacred places.
"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs warns of the escalatory policy adopted by the Israeli government in the occupied Palestinian territories," it said, and "affirms that attempts to harm the religious and historical status of Al-Aqsa Mosque are not only an attack on the Palestinians, but also on millions of Muslims around the world".
Jordan's foreign ministry spokesman Sinan Majali said Amman summoned the Israeli ambassador to "convey a protest message about the recklessness of the Israeli national security minister in storming the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque".
Jordan is the custodian of Al-Aqsa and other Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.
"Our government will not surrender to the threats of Hamas," Ben-Gvir vowed in a statement published by his spokesman, after the Palestinian militant group warned such a step was a "red line".
Ben-Gvir's incursion at Al-Aqsa comes days after he took office as national security minister, with powers over the police, giving his decision to enter the highly sensitive site considerable weight.
Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third-holiest site in Islam and the most-sacred Muslim place in Palestine.
Jews refer to the compound as the Temple Mount and consider it their holiest site, though a significant proportion – particularly from the ultra-Orthodox community – believe praying there violates religious law.
Under the longstanding status-quo agreement that governs Al-Aqsa, non-Muslims can visit the site at specific times but are not allowed to pray there.
In recent years, a growing number of Jews, most of them Israeli nationalists, have covertly prayed at the compound, a development decried by Palestinians.
The UAE, which controversially normalised ties with Israel in 2020, "strongly condemned the storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyard by an Israeli minister".
It comes despite the Emirati ambassador being photographed warmly embracing Ben-Gvir at a national day celebration last month.
And over the weekend, UAE leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan called Netanyahu to congratulate him on the formation of his new government and invited him to visit.
The US ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, said Washington "has made it clear to the Israeli government it opposes any steps that could harm the status quo in the holy sites".
Lying in the walled Old City of East Jerusalem, which Israel has illegally annexed, the compound is administered by Jordan's Waqf Islamic affairs council, with Israeli forces operating there and controlling access.
After storming the site, Ben-Gvir vowed to "maintain the freedom of movement for Muslims and Christians, but Jews will also go up to the mount, and those who make threats must be dealt with – with an iron hand".
The politician has lobbied to allow Jewish prayer in the compound, a move opposed by mainstream rabbinical authorities.
Israel's Sephardi chief rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef, wrote to Ben-Gvir on Tuesday.
"What will people say when they see a minister, an observant Jew, who flouts the position of the rabbinate?" he said in a letter.
Ben-Gvir was accompanied by units of the Israeli security forces, Waqf guards told AFP.
Saudi Arabia, home to the two holiest sites in Islam, condemned the "provocative practices" of Ben-Gvir.
Turkey condemned the far-right minister's "provocative act" in a statement.
"We call on Israel to act responsibly to prevent such provocations that will violate the status and sanctity of holy places in Jerusalem and escalate tension in the region," Ankara's foreign ministry said.
The intrusion was also criticised by the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
While Ben-Gvir has stormed the compound numerous times since entering parliament in April 2021, his presence as a top minister is highly significant.
A controversial intrusion in 2000 by then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon was one of the main triggers for the second Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, which lasted until 2005.
Basem Naim, a senior Hamas official, last week warned such a step would be "a big red line and it will lead to an explosion".
On Tuesday, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem deemed it a "crime" and vowed the mosque compound "will remain Palestinian, Arab, Islamic".
'Security and stability' warning
Hamas rules the Gaza Strip. In May 2021, Israel launched a brutal 11-day bombing campaign against the besieged enclave, killing more than 250 Palestinians, the vast majority civilians, including children.
It followed rocket fire from Palestinian militants in Gaza that came after Israeli raids at Al-Aqsa. Rockets launched by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups during the 11 days killed 13 people in Israel.
Hundreds of Palestinians and dozens of Israeli police officers were wounded in the preceding period across East Jerusalem.
Tensions were initially heightened by restrictions on Palestinians gathering and possible expulsions of residents from their homes in favour of settlers.
During this period, Ben-Gvir rallied his supporters at Israeli settler homes in East Jerusalem, an area which has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
The foreign ministry of Egypt – which serves as a key mediator in Gaza – warned "of the negative consequences of such actions on security and stability" in the Palestinian territories and the wider region.
For years seen as a fringe figure, Jewish Power party leader Ben-Gvir entered mainstream politics with the backing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The premier's office on Tuesday said Netanyahu is "committed to strictly maintaining the status quo, without changes" at the holy site.
Ben-Gvir has advocated for Palestinian citizens of Israel deemed disloyal to the state to be expelled and for the annexation of the illegally occupied West Bank.
Until a few years ago he had a portrait in his living room of Baruch Goldstein, a settler who massacred 29 Palestinian worshippers at Hebron's Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994.
He launched his ministerial career on 29 December as part of Israel's most right-wing government in history.
(AFP, Reuters, AP, The New Arab)