Jerusalem, Jan 3 (EFE).- Israel’s far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, made a surprise visit to a contested holy site in Jerusalem on Tuesday, amid accusations from Palestinian authorities who said the act was an “unprecedented provocation”.
The Israeli minister entered the compound that houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem despite threats from Hamas, the Palestinian group that governs the Gaza strip, that such a move would “cross a red line” and could spark an escalation of violence.
“Our government will not submit to the threats of Hamas,” Ben Gvir, leader of Jewish Power, an ultranationalist and Jewish supremacist party, told the media.
The hilltop site — known to Palestinians as the Esplanade of the Mosques, and to Jews as the Temple Mount — is a sacred place for both religions.
“The Temple Mount is the most important place for the people of Israel, and we maintain freedom of movement for Muslims and Christians, but Jews will also go up to the mount. Whoever makes threats will be met with an iron fist,” the politician, who has a past conviction for racism, said in a statement.
Hamas said the “Al-Aqsa Mosque was and will remain Palestinian, Arab and Islamic, and no fascist force or person can change this fact.”
Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem said that the Palestinian people would continue to defend the holy site and defy the Israeli occupation.
Ben Gvir’s visit comes amid heightened tensions in the region, with 2022 being one of the most violent and deadly in years, the UN said last month.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine accused the Israeli politician of adding “fuel on the fire and defies the will of our people by storming Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
Daoud Shihab, a spokesman for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, warned on Monday that Ben Gvir’s visit would open the door to another intifada, or armed uprising.
A status quo arrangement that has been in force since 1967 has reserved the religious site for the exclusive worship of Muslims, while Jews can only enter as visitors and are banned from praying.
Visits to the compound by Jews, many of whom are settlers like Ben Gvir, set a record in 2022 with 48,238 visitors, according to the Waqf, the Jordanian foundation that manages the site.
In September 2000, then-Likud leader, Ariel Sharon, visited the controversial site and sparked a Palestinian uprising, known as the Second Intifada. EFE