'We are in charge here' declares Ben-Gvir on visit to Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque

Visit by the National Security Minister comes after Israeli nationalists march in the Muslim quarter of the city

Israeli marching into Jerusalem's old city muslim quarter on May 18, 2023 in Jerusalem. Getty.
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Israel's National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir on Sunday visited the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem as tension remained high following five days of fighting with militants in Gaza.

“We are in charge here,” Mr Ben-Gvir was quoted by Israel media as saying on his tour of the site, holy to Jews and Muslims.

The visit came eight days after Israel and militants in Gaza, supported by Iran, agreed to a truce that halted cross-border attacks by the two sides.

Among the dead were three commanders of Islamic Jihad, which also has offices in Damascus.

Israeli actions against Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank have accelerated since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took power in December.

Mr Ben-Gvir described the compound as “the most important place for the Jewish people”. The site is mostly administered by Palestinian staff employed by the the Jordanian religious affairs ministry.

The UAE's Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on Israeli authorities to halt escalation and avoid exacerbating tension and instability in the region.

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Ministry condemned the visit as a "provocation against the feelings of Muslims."

It said the kingdom "holds Israel responsible for the impact of these transgressions."

In Amman, Jordan's foreign ministry spokesman Sinan Al Majali said the visit was “a dangerous escalation", describing the compound as "purely a Muslim place of worship".

Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 and claims custodianship of the Al Aqsa, one of the holiest sites in Islam.

It was the second visit by Mr Ben-Gvir to the disputed site in occupied East Jerusalem since January.

Mr Ben-Gvir's first visit prompted a meeting of the UN Security Council. A UN official said at the session that the visit was “inflammatory”.

On Thursday, thousands of people carrying Israeli flags marched in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City to celebrate the capture of East Jerusalem in 1967. Israel captured the West Bank at the same time.

They marched into the walled city through Damascus Gate, the main entrance to the Muslim Quarter, as Palestinians closed their shops and were banned from the gate, to make way for the marchers. Some of the marchers attacked journalists with rocks and bottles, according to Agence France-Presse.

Israeli police said they made two arrests over the attack, one of an adult and one of a child.

In 2021, a similar march, as well as tension related to Al Aqsa, led to an 11-day war between Israel and militant group Hamas, the most powerful Palestinian faction in Gaza.

The confrontation resulted in the deaths of 260 Palestinians, mostly in Gaza, and 12 Israelis.

Updated: May 21, 2023, 2:46 PM