The extremist Israeli minister of agriculture and rural development, Uri Ariel, together with a group of settlers, has stormed the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the occupied Old City of East Jerusalem amid an escalation of violence by Israeli forces and settlers against Palestinian people.
Firas al-Dibs, spokesperson of the Islamic Waqf (Endowment) organization, which manages the compound’s affairs, said the 66-year-old right-wing politician and a number of settlers forced their way into the holy site through the Moroccan Gate under tight protection of several groups of Israeli soldiers and special police forces.
Dibs pointed out that Israeli security forces escorted Ariel and the settlers as they toured the compound.
In July 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to allow Israeli lawmakers, or Knesset members, to visit the compound once every three months and announced that ministers could also go to the site.
A restriction of access to the site had been imposed since October 2015 in the wake of tensions in the occupied territories.
The number of Israeli lawmakers who have stormed the al-Aqsa Mosque compound has increased in the past few months since Netanyahu’s announcement.
Most of the Knesset members are right-wing extremists, who support the demolition of the Islamic site in order to build a Jewish temple instead.
The al-Aqsa Mosque compound sits just above the Western Wall plaza and houses both the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque.
Palestinians have repeatedly warned of Israeli attempts to change the status quo of the al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam.
The occupied Palestinian territories have witnessed new tensions ever since US President Donald Trump announced his decision on December 6, 2017 to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the occupied city.
On December 21, 2017, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly voted in favor of a resolution that calls on the US to withdraw its controversial recognition of Jerusalem al-Quds as Israeli “capital.”
In an attempt to prevent the passing of the resolution, Trump threatened reprisals against countries that backed the measure, which had earlier faced a US veto at the UN Security Council.
Israel, however, rejected the world body’s resolution while thanking Trump for his decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem