CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s Grand Mufti, the country’s top Islamic cleric, paid a rare visit to Jerusalem Wednesday, breaking with decades of opposition by Muslim leaders on traveling to areas under Israeli control.
Mufti Ali Gomaa wrote on his Twitter account that his visit was in solidarity with the Palestinians’ claim to the eastern part of the disputed city, under Israel’s control since it captured the city in the 1967 Mideast war. Palestinians claim the eastern part of the city for their future state.
Gomaa called the trip an unofficial visit, clearly an attempt to diffuse criticism he is already facing for breaking an unofficial ban by Muslim clerics and most Egyptian professional and private associations on visiting Israel or Israeli-controlled Palestinian territories. The Egyptian Coptic Church, and most Muslim clerics around the region generally uphold the ban as well.
Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979, but most Egyptians view the Jewish state as their nation’s top enemy, shunning dealings with Israeli authorities.
The spokesman for Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood, Mahmoud Ghozlan, said the visit was “very strange.”
“Muslim clerics have taken a position that there is no visiting to Jerusalem with continued Israeli occupation,” Ghozlan said. “He violated this opinion of the majority of clerics. Why, I don’t know.”
The mufti’s spokesman, Ibrahim Negm, said the visit was organized by the Jordanian royal family to inaugurate an Islamic research center. Gomaa is a member of the board of trustees of the center named after a renowned Islamic theologian from the 12th century. The mufti prayed in the Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, during his two hour-long visit.
“This is not political. It is a scientific and not political visit,” Negm said.
The director of the Palestinian Islamic clerical body in charge of administering the Al-Aqsa compound, Azzam Khatib, praised the visit.
“We consider these visits support for the Al-Aqsa mosque. These visits help the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to be steadfast in the city. It was a religious visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and lets the world know that it is an Islamic, Arab site.”
Al-Aqsa is in Jerusalem’s Old City, located on the area Jews call the Temple Mount as it was the site of their two Holy Temples.
Israeli officials had no immediate comment on the visit.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.
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