By Erin Viner
“These violations are a blatant affront and provocation of Muslim feelings everywhere and they risk a cycle of violence that threatens security and stability in the region and the world,” the Arab League said in a statement following an emergency meeting in Jordan on the matter.
Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit accused Israel of violating centuries-old policy according to which non-Muslims may visit but not pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
The mosque, known as Haram al Sharif by Muslims, is built on the ruins of both Biblical Temples. The area is called Temple Mount by Israel, and considered by the Jewish People as the holiest site in the world, also revered to Christians. The compound is Islam’s third most sacred site after Mecca and Medina; and the Al-Aqsa Mosque area is the most sensitive site in the generations-old conflict.
Even though Israel regards the whole of Jerusalem as its eternal capital and the center of the Jewish faith, it has observed a “status quo” arrangement that existed prior to its reunification of Jerusalem following the 1967 Six Day War that bars Jewish prayer at the compound as not to ‘inflame Muslim anger.’
“Our demands are clear that Al-Aqsa and Haram al Sharif in all its area is a sole place of worship for Muslims,” insisted Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al Safadi while speaking to reporters alongside Gheit.
The Arab League went on to claim that Israel had created a “provocation” by restricting the right of worship of Muslims so ultra-nationalist Jews could enter the complex under police protection at the height of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Israeli leaders strongly reject those accusations and insist they are ensuring freedom of worship for all religions in Jerusalem.
“Israel is maintaining the status quo, which includes the freedom of prayer for Muslims and the right to visit for non-Muslims. The police enforce the ban on Jewish prayer,” said Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Spokesperson Lior Haiat.
“Over the last few years, Israel is not allowing Jews to visit the Temple Mount during the last 10 days of Ramadan to prevent any friction,” he stressed.
A US State Department delegation met separately with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in attempts to ease tensions.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the American officials that Israel is responsible for the recent escalation of violence and asked that Washington intervene, according to a Palestinian Authority official.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid discussed with the US envoys the government’s “efforts in this very challenging period to preserve the status quo on the Temple Mount” and called on regional leaders to help restore calm, according to an MFA statement.
The future of Jerusalem is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of a state they seek to establish in the West Bank and Gaza.
Violence at the compound has surged over the past week, raising concerns about a slide back into wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israeli security forces have been on high alert during Ramadan, which this year coinciding with the Jewish holiday Passover and Christianity’s Easter – bringing visitors from all three monotheistic faiths together in the Old City.
Hundreds of rioters at al-Aqsa approached the Western Wall where Jewish worship was under way this morning, said Israeli police. When security teams were forced to intervene and enter the compound to utilize crowd-dispersal methods, the Muslims responded by hurling rocks and shooting fireworks at them.
At least 31 Palestinians were injured in clashes with Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound this morning according to Palestinian medics.
Since March, a series of deadly Palestinian / Arab terror attacks have killed 14 people in Israel, while at least 29 Palestinians were reportedly killed during clashes with Israeli security forces during West Bank raids.
Major clashes between Muslims and Jerusalem police that marked last year’s observance of Ramadan ignited full scale fighting with Gaza when Palestinian terror groups based in the territory fired more than 4,000 rockets at the Jewish State during the ensuing 11-day Operation Guardian of the Walls in May.