Israel Mulls Status Quo At Al-Aqsa

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Israel’s FM said the Jewish state is “committed” to status quo at Jerusalem’s holy site. “Muslims pray on the Temple Mount, non-Muslims visit. There is no change,” he said. “We have no plans to divide the Temple Mount between religions”

The Israeli foreign minister said on Sunday that Israel is “committed” to the status quo that bans Jews from praying at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the focal point of recent clashes in Jerusalem.

“Israel is committed to the status quo on the Temple Mount,” Yair Lapid said during a press briefing, using the Israeli name of the site which is holy to both Muslims and Jews.

“Muslims pray on the Temple Mount, non-Muslims visit. There is no change,” he said. “We have no plans to divide the Temple Mount between religions.”

Responding to criticism that Israeli security forces have been using excessive force against Palestinians during their clashes, Lapid accused Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, of stoking the clashes by encouraging young Palestinians to hurl stones and firecrackers at the Israeli police.

“They’ve done this to create a provocation, to force the Israeli police to enter the Mosque and remove them,” he said.

At least 200 Palestinians have been injured in clashes with Israeli police since April 15, the day the Jewish week-long holiday of Passover began as Muslims have been observing their holy month of Ramadan.

The Palestinians accused Israel of triggering the clashes by allowing thousands of Jews to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which Jews revere as the site of their biblical-era temple that was destroyed in AD 70, to mark the holiday.

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The holy site is located in East Jerusalem, a territory that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed shortly later, claiming it part of its “indivisible” capital, in a move unrecognized by most of the international community.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound has been administered by Jordan but secured by the Israeli police.

Under a long-held status quo, Jews are allowed to visit the site but not to pray there. However, far-right extremists have begun to quietly pray at the site over the past years, while an ultra-nationalist Israeli movement, led by settler activists, calls for rebuilding the Jewish temple there. ■

Naftali Bennett

Bennett talk to UN Chief

 Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held a phone conversation with United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the recent development of Israeli-Palestinian tensions, the prime minister’s office said.

Bennett told the UN chief that Israel is “the stabilizing force” in the conflicts. “If we did not uphold order, tens of thousands of Muslims would not be able to pray,” a premier office’s statement quoted him as saying.

His remarks came after weeks of tension in Jerusalem, where the Palestinians and the Israeli police clashed again at the holy site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Bennett also expressed his disappointment “at the absence of condemnation by the UN for the firing of rockets at Israel,” said the statement.

Several rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza in the past week after months of quiet. In response, Israel announced the temporary closure of the sole pedestrian crossing from Gaza to Israel, though thousands of Gazans cross into Israel on a daily basis to make a living.