Waqf condemns mayor’s visit to Temple Mount

Islamic body in charge of compound accuses Nir Barkat of conducting a ‘characteristic’ publicity stunt

Juersalem Mayor Nir Barkat at the Temple Mount on Tuesday, October 28, 2014. (courtesy: Mayor's office)
Juersalem Mayor Nir Barkat at the Temple Mount on Tuesday, October 28, 2014. (courtesy: Mayor's office)

The Islamic Waqf body, which administers the Temple Mount, on Tuesday condemned Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s visit to the site earlier in the day, charging that it had not been coordinated.

The visit was “merely for publicity and its political nature is characteristic of [Barkat],” Azzam al-Khatib, head of the Waqf, told AFP.

In a statement, the Al-Aqsa Foundation condemned what it described as the “storming” of the compound by Barkat.

“This does not give any legitimacy to considering al-Aqsa part of the jurisdiction of the Jerusalem municipality, and does not erase the eternal Islamic character of the mosque,” said the foundation, an offshoot of a radical branch of Israel’s Islamic Movement religious advocacy group.

Barkat’s office declined to comment on the statement by the Waqf, but in a statement shortly after he visited the Temple Mount, Barkat said he made the trip in order to “assess the current situation and gain a deeper understanding of the issues and challenges at the site.”

Just a day earlier, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah toured the Temple Mount compound, after coordinating the visit with Israeli authorities, and proclaimed that “there will not be a Palestinian state without East Jerusalem as its capital.”

The compound, holy to both Jews and Muslims, is the historical site of the Jewish Temples and currently houses the al-Aqsa Mosque.

Non-Muslim visits are permitted and regulated by police, while Jews are allowed to visit but not to pray there, for fear it could trigger major disturbances.

Barkat and Hamdallah’s visits came as tensions around the site have flared, with Palestinians claiming that Israelis intend to change the status quo and allow Jewish prayer at the holy site.

Clashes have broken out between police and Palestinian rioters regularly over the past several months during visits by Jews to the site, and officials have at times banned Muslim males under the age of 50 or 60 from the site.

Palestinian Authority and Hamas officials have accused Israel of trying to Judaize the site, with Abbas denouncing “incursions by extremist settlers” and joining Hamas in calling for Palestinians to defend it.

On Monday, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh held talks with his counterparts in the US, the UN and Europe to pressure Israel to stop its “violations” on the Temple Mount, according to the Petra news agency. Jordan considers itself a custodian of the holy site.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alleged on Sunday that rising tensions between Muslim worshipers and Israeli security forces were the fault of “the Palestinian Authority, [President] Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas and personnel from Islamic organizations.” Netanyahu said Monday there were no plans to change the status quo on the mount.

The city has been experiencing near-daily protests and incidents of violence throughout East Jerusalem, including a terror attack last Wednesday in which a Palestinian man plowed his car into a crowd of people near a light rail stop, killing two people including a three-month-old girl.

On Friday, security forces killed a Palestinian teen in the West Bank over the weekend after he allegedly attempted to hurl a Molotov cocktail at traffic on Highway 60, sparking more riots.

Tensions have been high since June, when three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed by Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank. Jewish extremists retaliated by kidnapping and killing a Palestinian teenager in East Jerusalem. The kidnappings set off a series of events that led to the 50-day Gaza conflict, Operation Protective Edge.

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