Netanyahu condemns Arab MP’s ‘provocative’ Aqsa visit

Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit out at an Arab Israeli lawmaker’s defiance Wednesday of a ban on visits by members of parliament to the highly sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem.

Basel Ghattas, a Christian member of the Israeli parliament for the Arab Joint List coalition, told AFP he visited the holy site on Wednesday morning “to show Netanyahu we don’t recognise his authority over the mosque.”

“Muslims and Arabs can visit the mosque in a very quiet and normal way without violence, but the Israelis are inciting and provoking,” he said.

The mosque complex is the third-holiest site in Islam and the most sacred for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount.

Netanyahu banned all members of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, and ministers from entering the compound earlier this month in a bid to ease tensions that have seen nine Israelis killed by Palestinians in three weeks of knife attacks and shootings.

Fifty-nine Palestinians and one Arab Israeli have also been killed, some of them alleged attackers, while others were shot at anti-Israeli protests.

The Al-Aqsa ban appeared mainly to target Jewish members of government whose visits to the site are seen as a provocation by Palestinians.

Protests at the mosque compound itself have eased in the past two weeks, but the lone-wolf attacks have not abated.

“We are making every effort to maintain this quiet, but it would seem that someone is disturbed by this,” said Netanyahu of Ghattas’s visit.

“He did it solely for the purpose of provocation, only to inflame the situation. I will not let any Knesset member or minister ignite the Temple Mount, and I call on all members of the Knesset and public figures in general to act responsibly, especially at this time.”

Muslims accuse Israel of seeking to change rules governing the site and to allow Jews to pray there.

Only Muslims are allowed to pray within the compound, while non-Muslims can visit but not pray there.

Netanyahu has repeatedly denied plans to change the status quo.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s minister of internal security, slammed Ghattas’s visit in a message on his Twitter account, saying it coul “incite violence and lead to death.”

Isaac Herzog, the leader of the opposition, said it was “very serious” that Netanyahu was failing to enforce his own measures.

The visit is only the latest in a series of events straining efforts to douse tensions over Al-Aqsa.

On Tuesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely stoked Palestinian fears by saying it was her “dream to see the Israeli flag flying” over the holy site, prompting Netanyahu to call government members to order.

Arab Israelis are the descendants of Palestinians who remained on their land after the creation of Israel in 1948, and are citizens of the Jewish state.

The Joint List is a coalition of four Arab Israeli parties which hold 13 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

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