Israeli police on Thursday were accused of holding up a visit of Lord Tariq Ahmad, the UK minister for the Middle East region, to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount.
According to the BBC, Ahmad — a practicing Muslim — was blocked from entering the flashpoint holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City for 30 minutes before eventually being allowed up.
The Islamic Waqf that administers the compound called the move “unacceptable.”
“Whether he came as a minister or as a Muslim, he shouldn’t have been blocked,” the Waqf said.
Ahmad later played down the incident, telling the BBC that the hold-up was due to “security checks, whatever they needed to do.”
In an attempt to prove his identity, Ahmad showed police a tweet from Wednesday by Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, showing the two meeting in Jerusalem.
Great meeting with Minister of State for Middle East @tariqahmadbt. I thanked the UK for voting against the ICJ resolution. UK is one of Israel’s important trade partner; we discussed the new Free Trade Agreement which will take our trading relationship to new heights. pic.twitter.com/3PnuZUavoW
— אלי כהן | Eli Cohen (@elicoh1) January 11, 2023
Police did not respond to a request from the BBC for comment. There was also no response to the incident from Cohen or the Foreign Ministry.
The Temple Mount is revered by Jews as the historic location of the two Jewish Temples, making it Judaism’s holiest site. It is also the third-holiest for Muslims, who refer to it as the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound or the Noble Sanctuary.
It has been a frequent flashpoint in the Israeli-Arab conflict.
“I emphasized the UK’s unwavering support for Jordanian Custodianship of Jerusalem’s Holy Sites and for the Status Quo,” Ahmad wrote on Twitter after his visit.
An honour & privilege to spend time at the holy Al Aqsa Mosque this morning with the Director of Jerusalem Waqf Department Sheikh Azzam Al Khatib.
I emphasised the UK’s ???????? unwavering support for Jordanian Custodianship of Jerusalem’s Holy Sites & for the Status Quo. pic.twitter.com/8Q1LM4qqsm
— Lord (Tariq)Ahmad of Wimbledon (@tariqahmadbt) January 12, 2023
Along with East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Israel captured Jerusalem’s Old City from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. However, it allowed the Jordanian Waqf to continue to maintain religious authority atop the mount. Under their 1994 peace treaty, Israel recognized Amman’s “special role… in Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem.”
Jordan has recently expressed concern that Israel’s new government could alter the status quo at the Temple Mount, which allows non-Muslims to visit during limited hours but not pray there.
Some members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-religious coalition have called to allow Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount, though the coalition deal signed by his entire bloc stipulates that the status quo “with regard to the holy places” will be preserved.