An ultranationalist minister in the new Netanyahu cabinet, Itamar Ben-Gvir visited a controversial Jerusalem holy site on Tuesday. Palestine and several Arab nations called the visit 'storming' and 'provocation.'
In Jerusalem, Itamar Ben-Gvir entered the site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary flanked by a large contingent of police officers.
Ben-Gvir has long called for greater Jewish access to the holy site, which is viewed by Palestinians as provocative and as a potential precursor to Israel taking complete control over the compound.
Most rabbis forbid Jews from praying on the site, but there has been a growing movement in recent years of Jews who support worship there. The site has been the scene of frequent clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces, most recently in April last year.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which acts as custodian of the contested shrine, condemned Ben-Gvir's visit in the strongest terms.
Ben-Gvir's stated intention of visiting the site earlier this week drew threats from the Islamic militant group Hamas. Ben-Gvir wrote on Twitter after his visit that the site is open to all and “If Hamas thinks that if it threatens me it will deter me, they should understand that times have changed.”
The visit is seen by Palestinians as a provocation.
Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said that Ben-Gvir entering the site on Tuesday was "a continuation of the Zionist's occupation aggression on our sacred places and war on our Arab identity.” He added, “Our Palestinian people will continue defending their holy places and Al-Aqsa mosque," he said.
Ofir Gendelman, who has long served as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Arabic-language spokesman, released a video showing that the situation is completely calm at the holy site following Ben-Gvir's departure.
The hilltop shrine is the third-holiest site in Islam and an emotional symbol for the Palestinians.
It sits on a sprawling esplanade that also is the holiest site for Jews, who call it the Temple Mount because it was the location of two Jewish temples in antiquity.
The competing claims to the site lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have sparked numerous rounds of violence in the past.
Ben-Gvir is head of the ultranationalist religious Jewish Power faction and has a history of inflammatory remarks and actions against Palestinians.
A day earlier, opposition leader Yair Lapid, who until last week was Israel's prime minister, spoke out against Ben-Gvir's intended visit, saying it would lead to violence that will endanger human lives and cost human lives.
His visit came following months of mounting tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. On Monday, the Israeli rights group B'Tselem said 2022 was the deadliest year for Palestinians since 2004, a period of intense violence that came during a Palestinian uprising. It said nearly 150 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
"Jordan condemns in the severest of terms the storming of the Aqsa mosque and violating its sanctity," said a statement by Jordan's foreign ministry, Reuters reported.
Saudi Arabia in a statement without naming the minister charged that an Israeli official “stormed” the site of al-Aqsa mosque. “The foreign ministry expresses the condemnation of the
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of the provocative action by an Israeli official who stormed the al-Aqsa mosque compound," Reuters reported quoting the statement. UAE also condemned the visit.