Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir visited the flashpoint al-Aqsa Mosque compound Sunday, May 21, a controversial move by the extreme-right politician amid heightened tensions in annexed east Jerusalem. The move came three days after Ben-Gvir and tens of thousands of Jewish nationalists marched through the Old City and just over a week into a fragile Gaza ceasefire.
“Jerusalem is our soul,” Ben-Gvir wrote on Telegram, alongside a photo of himself at the site in the heart of the Old City. “The threats of Hamas will not deter us, I went up to the Temple Mount!” he wrote, using the Jewish name for the site.
Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, denounced Ben-Gvir’s last visit to the site in January and again slammed his action on Sunday. Israel will “bear responsibility for the barbaric incursions of its ministers and herds of settlers”, the group wrote on Telegram. The move “confirms the depths of danger looming over Al-Aqsa, under this Zionist fascist government and the arrogance of its ministers from the extreme right”, said Hamas.
Israeli police confirmed Ben-Gvir’s visit in a statement, adding that it passed without incident.
Al-Aqsa mosque is the third holiest site in Islam and is administered by Jordan. Non-Muslims are permitted to visit the site, but not pray there. The compound is also the most sacred site for Jews, who pray below it at the Western Wall.
Jordan decried Ben-Gvir’s actions as a “provocative step” and a “dangerous and unacceptable escalation.” It “represents a flagrant and unacceptable violation of international law, and of the historical and legal status quo in Jerusalem and its holy sites,” said foreign ministry spokesman Sinan Majali.
Tours of the site by Jewish nationalists have long been criticized by Palestinians and Arab nations, while Ben-Gvir’s visits have taken on added weight since he took office in December.
The timing of Sunday’s visit also holds significance, coming days after nationalists marched through the Old City to celebrate east Jerusalem’s capture by Israeli forces in the 1967 Six-Day War. Palestinians were forced to close their businesses and were removed from the march route to make way for the Israeli participants.
Thursday’s event was marred by incidents of violence against Palestinians and journalists, while the United States condemned “the hateful chants such as ‘Death to Arabs'” during the rally.
Later on Sunday, Israel’s top politicians are set to hold a rare cabinet meeting within the Old City. It comes days into a May 13 truce reached between Israel and Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza, ending five days of cross-border fighting.