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Israel far-right minister visits Al-Aqsa compound

Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir visits Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem's Old City. — Reuters
Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir visits Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem's Old City. — Reuters

JERUSALEM: Israel's National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir visited the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound Sunday, a controversial move by the extreme-right politician amid heightened tensions in annexed east Jerusalem.

The move came three days after Ben-Gvir and tens of thousands of Jewish nationalists marched through the Old City and just over a week into a fragile Gaza ceasefire.

Al-Aqsa mosque is the third holiest site in Islam and is administered by Jordan. Non-Muslims are permitted to visit the site, but not pray there.

The compound is also the most sacred site for Jews, who pray below it at the Western Wall.

Hamas denounced Ben-Gvir's last visit to the site in January and again slammed his action on Sunday.

Israel will "bear responsibility for the barbaric incursions of its ministers and herds of settlers", the group wrote on Telegram.

The move "confirms the depths of danger looming over Al-Aqsa, under this Zionist fascist government and the arrogance of its ministers from the extreme right", said Hamas.

Israeli police confirmed Ben-Gvir's visit in a statement, adding that it passed without incident.

Later on Sunday, Israel's top politicians held a rare cabinet meeting in the tunnels beneath the Western Wall.

Palestinians fear their use as a vast museum threatens the foundations of Al-Aqsa mosque.

Jordan decried Ben-Gvir's actions as a "provocative step" and a "dangerous and unacceptable escalation".

It "represents a flagrant and unacceptable violation of international law, and of the historical and legal status quo in Jerusalem and its holy sites", said foreign ministry spokesman Sinan Majali.

Tours of the site by Jewish nationalists have long been criticised by Palestinians and Arab nations, while Ben-Gvir's visits have taken on added weight since he took office in December.

The office of Palestinian prime minister Mahmud Abbas said "harming Al-Aqsa Mosque is playing with fire".

"(It) will push the region into a religious war with unimaginable consequences that will affect everyone," said Abbas's spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, in a statement published by the Palestinian news agency Wafa.

The timing of Sunday's visit also holds significance, coming days after nationalists marched through the Old City to celebrate east Jerusalem's capture by Israeli forces in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Palestinians were forced to close their businesses and were removed from the march route to make way for the Israeli participants. — AFP

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