The political leader of the Hamas terrorist group, Ismail Haniyeh, threatened retaliation on Tuesday to any changes to the status quo at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.
The esplanade is the holiest place for Jews as the site of the Biblical temples, while the al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits atop the mount, is the third-holiest place for Muslims, who believe that the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from there.
“We will absolutely not permit the implementation of Zionist plans at the al-Aqsa Mosque or in Jerusalem more broadly,” Haniyeh said in an address commemorating Hamas’s 35th anniversary.
“The sword of Jerusalem has not and will not be sheathed,” he said.
Hamas supporters refer to its latest major flareup with Israel in May 2021 as the “Sword of Jerusalem Battle.” The terror group claims that the rockets it fired during that conflict were retaliation for Israeli security forces entering the al-Aqsa Mosque after Palestinians threw stones and other objects at them.
Israel claimed sovereignty over all of Jerusalem after its victory in the 1967 Six Day War, but allowed the Islamic Waqf, a Jordanian institution, to retain its administrative authority over the mount. Jews are allowed to visit the site, but not pray there, in a delicate status quo that has been slipping as some Jewish activists push for expanded prayer rights.
Haniyeh’s comments come amid speculation that the appointment of far-right Otzma Yehudit party leader Itamar Ben Gvir to the position of national security minister might usher in policy changes that would allow Jews to pray in a more conspicuous manner at the site. Police have for decades enforced the Jewish prayer ban as a public security measure.
On Monday, Ben Gvir called for an end to the prayer restrictions, which he said constituted anti-Jewish “apartheid” at the holy site.
During coalition-building negotiations, expected incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud party reportedly shot down an Otzma Yehudit proposal to change the status quo on the mount.
A poll in May found that 50 percent of Israeli Jews think Jews should be allowed to pray at the site. Three out of four respondents said they supported that view because Jewish prayer demonstrates Israeli sovereignty.
Many rabbis, however, interpret Jewish law as prohibiting visits to the Temple Mount because visitors could tread on sacred ground. Israel’s Chief Sephardic rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef, condemned Ben Gvir’s periodic ascents as “blasphemy” in June.
Minor changes to the status quo at the holy site or even rumors of such changes have sparked violent protests in the past, including contributing to last year’s war between Israel and Gaza terror groups. In 2017, a decision to place metal detectors and cameras at the compound following a deadly attack there sparked several days of angry protests and condemnation from Israel’s Muslim neighbors.
Hamas’s Haniyeh, an Islamist, said on Tuesday that “Hamas has made a compact with our people over the blessed al-Aqsa Mosque and has preserved the depth of the Islamic sense of connection to our Jerusalem and our al-Aqsa.”
Haniyeh’s broadcast displayed the message “al-Aqsa in danger” and a Hamas logo prominently featuring the Dome of the Rock, located in the Mosque complex.
Vitriol from terrorist organizations like Hamas is often seen as fueling clashes in Jerusalem, like the ones in April that saw 160 Palestinians wounded and Israeli security forces moving on the al-Aqsa complex.