Diplomatic flurry as Jordan envoy briefly delayed at Temple Mount entrance

Police say it’s ‘fake news’ that Ghassan Majali was initially refused entry; Amman summons Israeli ambassador, then Majali makes his visit

Jordanian Ambassador to Israel Ghassan Majali visits the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on January 17, 2023. (Screenshot: Twitter; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Jordanian Ambassador to Israel Ghassan Majali visits the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on January 17, 2023. (Screenshot: Twitter; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Jordan’s ambassador to Israel visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Tuesday after earlier leaving the holy site in protest at being held up by police at the entrance, prompting a diplomatic protest from Amman.

The Jordanian foreign ministry said it summoned Israel’s envoy Eitan Surkis after Ghassan Majali was allegedly “refused entry” to the Temple Mount. A statement from the ministry said Surkis was handed a letter of condemnation.

But Israeli police — and also Jordanian reports — indicated that rather than refusing him entry, cops briefly held him up since he hadn’t coordinated the visit with them.

In video footage, the ambassador was seen telling the police to “get away from me” as officers asked him to wait.

Majali left the area of the Old City’s Lion’s Gate after refusing to request permission to enter.

However, he later returned and toured the Temple Mount, including praying in Al-Aqsa Mosque. Video from the visit showed a man approaching Majali and his entourage to serve them coffee as they walked around the compound.

The Israel Police decried reports that Israel refused to allow Majali to visit the Temple Mount as “fake news,” saying the ambassador had arrived without any prior notification and that a policeman hadn’t immediately recognized him, causing a “very small” delay while the cop consulted his commander.

Majali then decided to leave, according to the police.

“Had he waited a few more seconds he could have entered,” a police statement said.

Majali was accompanied by the head of the Islamic Waqf — a Jordanian-appointed council that administers the Temple Mount.

Later on Tuesday, a Foreign Ministry spokesman issued a statement asserting that “there is no change in Israel’s policy regarding the Temple Mount. Israel is committed to keeping the status quo on the Temple Mount and the freedom of worship in Jerusalem. The Israeli Police is responsible for law and order on the Temple Mount.”

Tuesday’s incident came amid tensions over the flashpoint site, which is the holiest in Judaism and the third-holiest to Muslims, who refer to it as the Al Aqsa Mosque compound or the Noble Sanctuary. Far-right police minister Itamar Ben Gvir briefly visited the site earlier this month, drawing fury from the Arab world, including Jordan, which hauled in Surkis for a dressing down.

Surkis told the Jordanians at the time that Israel remained committed to the status quo, that there had not been any violations of the agreement and that Israeli ministers have visited the site in the past.

Ben Gvir has long been an advocate of formally altering the Temple Mount status quo, under which Muslims are allowed to pray and enter with few restrictions, while Jews can visit only during limited time slots via a single gate and walk on a predetermined route, closely accompanied by police. Jews are not allowed to pray at the site, though recent years have increasingly seen police allow some silent prayer.

Israel captured the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, almost two decades after Amman conquered it during the War of Independence of 1948. However, Israel allowed the Jordanian Waqf to continue to maintain religious authority atop the mount.

Israeli security forces escort a group of religious Jews as they visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City on March 31, 2022. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Israel’s 1994 peace deal with Jordan specified Jordan has a “special role” at Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. Amman views itself as the custodian of the Temple Mount.

Last week, police were accused by the Waqf of holding up a visit by Lord Tariq Ahmad, the UK minister for the Middle East region, to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount. Ahmad later played down the incident, telling the BBC that the hold-up was due to “security checks, whatever they needed to do.”

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