Israeli minister stirs new tensions over Jerusalem holy site

2015-10-27 17:59
Ultra-Orthodox Jews walk past the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem's most sensitive holy site. (Mahmoud Illean, AP)

Ultra-Orthodox Jews walk past the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem's most sensitive holy site. (Mahmoud Illean, AP)

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Tel Aviv - An Israeli minister was accused on Tuesday of adding fuel to the fire over a disputed Jerusalem holy site after she said she wished to see the Israeli flag raised over it.

The site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, "is the most sacred place of the Jewish people", Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told the Knesset television channel late on Monday.

Calling for unlimited access to the site by members of all religions, she insisted that "making a pilgrimage to the Temple Mount is a basic right of every Jew".

Asked if she thought the Israeli flag ought to be raised on the mount, she answered: "Of course. If it were up to us, certainly."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly rebuked her. 

He has been struggling to refute what he calls "wild lies" by Muslim leaders claiming that Israel plans to change prayer arrangements at the site.

A decades-old status quo agreement allows non-Muslims to visit, but not to pray on the elevated platform, which is home to Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock shrine as well as the ruins of the biblical Jewish temple.

Jews may instead pray at a nearby ancient retaining wall, known as the Wailing Wall.

A statement from Netanyahu's office said the premier was committed to upholding the status quo at the site, which has been at the centre of more than three weeks of deadly violence.

"Netanyahu made it clear that he expects all members of the government to act accordingly," the statement said.

Hotovely was forced to issue a clarification. 

"My personal opinions are not government policy," said the former settler and a hawkish member of Netanyahu's ruling, right-wing Likud party. "I am fully committed to the government's policy that there will be no change in the status quo on the Temple Mount as the prime minister reaffirmed."

Violence sparked this month over the issue has killed 60 Palestinians, 10 Israelis and one Eritrean. Stabbing attacks have been carried out against Israelis and clashes have occurred between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces in the worst wave of street violence seen in years.

The latest deaths were a 19-year-old Palestinian shot late on Monday in clashes near the southern West Bank city of Hebron and an Israeli who died of wounds sustained two weeks ago in a shooting and stabbing attack in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu has agreed with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Jordan, the official guardian of the holy site in East Jerusalem, to place 24-hour surveillance cameras throughout the Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount compound.

Israeli police on Monday blocked officials of the Waqf, the Muslim trust that administers Al-Aqsa Mosque, from putting up cameras on the outdoor platform.

Police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said Tuesday that the Waqf tried to put up cameras outside the Mughrabi Gate for non-Muslim visitors into the compound but the installation "wasn't co-ordinated".

Read more on:    palestine  |  israel  |  religion

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