Israel’s fiery right-winger Itamar Ben-Gvir went to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem for the first time as a minister on Tuesday, according to his spokesman, angering Palestinians who view the action as provocative.
“Our government will not surrender to the threats of Hamas,” Ben-Gvir said in a statement published by his spokesman, after the Palestinian militant group warned such a move was a “red line”.
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Jews, who refer to the complex as the Temple Mount, regard the Al-Aqsa mosque as their most sacred location, making it the third-holiest place in Islam.
“The Temple Mount is the most important place for the people of Israel, and we 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,” he said.
The property, which is located in east Jerusalem that Israel has seized, is run by the Waqf Islamic Affairs Council, with Israeli forces present and restricting access.
Ben-Gvir has pushed for changes to the site’s management to permit Jewish worship there; this is something that traditional rabbinical authorities are against.
Waqf guards confirmed to AFP that Israeli security officers were accompanying Ben-Gvir, and a drone was circling the holy site.
On Tuesday morning, visitors began to arrive at the square after he left, but nothing happened.
Ben-Gvir has made multiple trips to the property since joining the legislature in April 2021, but his attendance as a prominent minister carries far more weight.
One of the main causes of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, which lasted until 2005, was a contentious visit by then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon in 2000.