Far-right Israeli minister sparks furious backlash with visit to al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem

PM Binyamin Netanyahu cancels planned visit to UAE in light of fallout from minister’s visit to flashpoint site

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has cancelled a visit planned next week to the United Arab Emirates after a furious backlash from the Arab world following the visit by ultranationalist national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir to the flashpoint site in Jerusalem’s old city known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Harm al-Sharif noble sanctuary.

The visit, early on Tuesday morning, lasted less than 15 minutes and passed without incident.

Following threats from Hamas and Islamic Jihad it was announced on Monday that Mr Ben-Gvir, who was sworn in last week as the minister in Israel’s new government with full control over the police, had decided to postpone his planned visit. However, the announcement was a ruse designed to defuse tension ahead of Tuesday’s surprise visit.

The hilltop plateau, the site of two Biblical temples, is the most sacred place in Judaism, where Jews pray towards three times a day. For Muslims it is the site of Muhammad’s ascent to heaven and the entire compound is considered to be al-Aqsa mosque.


A statement from Mr Netanyahu’s office said Israel was strictly committed to maintaining the status quo on the Temple Mount and would not be dictated to by Hamas.

The site came under Israeli control after Israel captured Jerusalem’s old city from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War. Under a delicate status quo Jews and other non-Muslims are allowed to go up to the compound but not pray there.

Mr Ben-Gvir, leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, has visited the site many times and advocates changing the status quo to allow Jews to pray there.

“The Temple Mount is open to everyone,” he tweeted during his visit, accompanied by a photograph of him surrounded by a police cordon with the golden Dome of the Rock in the background.

Jordan, the custodian of the holy places in Jerusalem, summoned Israel’s ambassador for a reprimand after condemning what it called the “invasion” of al-Aqsa.

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

Hamas described the visit as “a continuation of the Zionist occupation’s aggression on our sacred places and war on our Arab identity”.

Mr Netanyahu’s visit to the UAE was to have been his first as prime minister but the trip was cancelled after Abu Dhabi condemned Israel over Mr Ben-Gvir’s visit and “reiterated its firm position on the need to provide full protection for the al-Aqsa mosque and halt serious and provocative violations taking place there”.

A spokesperson for the US National Security Council warned against any steps that would jeopardise the status quo of holy sites in Jerusalem.

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem