An ultra-nationalist Israeli cabinet minister visited a Jerusalem holy site on Tuesday for the first time since taking office in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new far-right government last week.
The visit is seen by Palestinians as a provocation and drew fierce condemnation from across the Arab world and a rebuke from Israeli allies.
Hours earlier, Palestinian officials said a 15-year-old boy was shot dead by the Israeli army near the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem. The Israeli army said its forces had fired on a person involved in violent clashes with soldiers.
In Jerusalem, Itamar Ben-Gvir entered the site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary flanked by a large contingent of policemen.
Ben-Gvir has long called for greater Jewish access to the holy site, which Palestinians see as a provocation and a possible precursor to Israel taking full control of the compound. Most rabbis forbid Jews from praying at the site, but in recent years there has been a growing movement of Jews supporting worship there.
The site has been the scene of frequent clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces, most recently in April last year.
The US Embassy in Jerusalem said that Ambassador Thomas Nides “has been very clear in discussions with the Israeli government on the issue of preserving the status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem. Actions that prevent that are unacceptable.”
The United Arab Emirates, which diplomatically recognized Israel in 2020, “strongly condemned the assault on the Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyard by an Israeli minister under the protection of Israeli forces.”
A Foreign Ministry statement urged Israel to “stop the serious and provocative violations taking place there.” The ministry also “called on the Israeli authorities to take responsibility for reducing escalation and instability in the region.”
Bahrain, which also recognized Israel at the same time, did not immediately acknowledge the incident.
A separate statement from the Saudi Foreign Ministry also condemned the Israeli minister’s action, as did statements by Kuwait and Qatar, which do not diplomatically recognize Israel over its occupation of land sought by the Palestinians for a future state.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which acts as custodian of the disputed shrine, condemned Ben-Gvir’s visit “in the strongest terms.” Egypt warned against the “negative repercussions of such measures on security and stability in the occupied territories and the region, and on the future of the peace process.”
Ben-Gvir’s declared intention to visit the site earlier this week prompted threats from the Islamic militant group Hamas.
Ben-Gvir wrote on Twitter after his visit that the site “is open to all and if Hamas thinks that if it threatens me it will deter me, you need to understand that times have changed.”