Far-right Israeli Cabinet minister visits Al Aqsa Mosque, raising tensions

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Israel’s far right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, visited Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque compound on Wednesday, declaring the contested holy site belongs “only to the state of Israel.”

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Ben-Gvir said Wednesday’s visit was a response to a move by three European countries to unilaterally recognize an independent Palestinian state.

Norway, Ireland and Spain announced earlier in the day that they are recognizing a Palestinian state in a historic move, angering Israel.

“The countries that have today recognized a Palestinian state are rewarding murderers and aggressors, and I say this: we will not even allow the declaration of a Palestinian state,” he said.

Sacred to both Jews and Muslims, the hilltop compound in the Old City of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem has long been a lightning rod in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Under a status quo decreed after Israel’s conquest of east Jerusalem in 1967, non-Muslims are allowed to visit the compound at specific times, without praying, a rule that is less and less followed by some nationalist Jews.

The site is administered by Jordan, but access is controlled by Israeli security forces.

Ben Gvir, a regular visitor to the site, reaffirmed during his visit on Wednesday that “the holiest site of the Jewish people belongs only to the State of Israel”.

His visits to the site have been cited by Hamas leaders as one of the reasons behind the October 7 attack, which they called “Al-Aqsa Flood”.

The leader of the far-right Jewish Force party, Ben Gvir was charged more than 50 times in his youth with incitement to violence or hate speech, and was convicted in 2007 of supporting a terrorist group and inciting racism.

The city of Jerusalem has been largely spared violence since Hamas’s attack on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

The militants also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,709 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

With agencies

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