Delegations from the Arab world will visit Jerusalem and the West Bank in the near future, Palestinian officials claim. They will be heeding a recent call by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to strengthen the city’s Arab and Islamic identity.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for the Palestinian president, told the Palestinian Wafa news agency that delegations from Tunisia, Bahrain, Qatar and Jordan would soon visit the city “to support the Palestinians, to assert Jerusalem’s Arabness and [show] that Jerusalem is not only Palestinian but concerns all Arabs, Muslims and Christians across the world.”

It was unclear when the delegations would arrive or whether they would be official or unofficial.

Abbas’s call on Muslims and Arabs to visit Jerusalem, issued during a conference in Qatar in February, surprised many in the Arab world, which has maintained a longstanding tourism boycott of Israel. He encouraged the visits so that people could “see for themselves the Israeli violations and to affirm (Jerusalem’s) Arab Muslim and Christian heritage and ties.”

Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi, a leading Sunni scholar based in Qatar, quickly attacked Abbas’ position, asserting that Arab visits to Jerusalem would legitimize the Israeli occupation of the city.

Mahmoud Habbash, the PA’s minister of religious affairs, then called on Qaradawi to overturn the fatwa, arguing that visits to Jerusalem will challenge Israeli policies in the city and show support for its Palestinian residents.

“The fatwa contradicts Islamic teachings and provides a free service to the Israeli occupation that aims to isolate Occupied Jerusalem from its Arab and Islamic surroundings”, he said.