UK minister's visit to Al Aqsa Mosque delayed by Israeli security checks

British government delegation forced to wait for half an hour before being granted entry

UK Middle East Minister Tariq Ahmad, third from left, visits Al Aqsa Mosque. Photo: Tariq Ahmad / Twitter
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Britain’s Middle East Minister Tariq Ahmad visited Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem today, but reports suggest he was delayed for half an hour before Israeli border guards waved him through.

He posted photos of his time at the site, which included a guided tour of the mosque.

“An honour and privilege to spend time at the holy Al Aqsa Mosque this morning with the Director of Jerusalem Waqf Department Sheikh Azzam Al Khatib,” the British peer said on Twitter.

“I emphasised the UK’s unwavering support for Jordanian custodianship of Jerusalem’s holy sites and for the status quo.”

Israeli border police are said to have kept Mr Ahmad waiting, saying they had not been expecting his visit.

The Waqf – the Jordanian-funded administrators of the holy site – said it notified the Israeli authorities of his visit a day in advance.

Mr Ahmad, a Muslim, told the BBC he was subjected to security checks after arriving at the gates.

His delegation is understood to have told the guards the visit had been co-ordinated with the Israeli government.

An image of Mr Ahmad’s meeting on Wednesday with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen was said to have been used by his team to support their case.

Delayed admission is unusual for a visiting minister from a country allied with Israel.

The UK’s Foreign Office has not yet responded to requests for comment.

Al Aqsa Mosque compound is the third-holiest site in Islam.

Mr Ahmad's tour comes as tensions between Israel and the Palestinians run high after Itamar Ben-Gvir’s visit to Al Aqsa this month.

The far-right Israeli National Security Minister’s move drew international condemnation and caused outrage among Palestinians, who considered the incident to be a provocation.

Before his visit to Jerusalem, Mr Ahmad spoke about regional tensions.

"My visit comes at a difficult but important time for the Palestinian people, and I want to re-emphasise UK support to the Palestinian people and our unwavering commitment to a negotiated two-state solution as the only means of ending this conflict," he said.

“Visits to various parts of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, will allow me to witness first-hand the challenges facing Palestinians, as well as to see the impact of UK funding on some of the most vulnerable.

“I look forward to discussing UK-Palestinian relations with a wide range of interlocutors over the coming days."

Mr Cohen on Wednesday posted a photo on Twitter of his “great meeting” with Mr Ahmad.

Mr Cohen said the UK was “one of Israel’s important trade partners” and said the ministers discussed the potential for a new pact that would "take our trading relationship to new heights".

He also said he hoped the UK would go ahead with plans to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organisation.

That would send an “unequivocal message to the Iranian terrorist regime against the terrorist activities it leads in the Middle East and around the world", he was quoted as saying.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pushed for more countries to designate the IRGC as a terrorist group. The US, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have each done so.

Mr Ahmad said he had a "productive meeting" with Mr Cohen during his first visit to the region since being appointed as Middle East Minister.

"We agreed on the need to tackle the threat posed by Iran, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the importance of the Abraham Accords, and I reiterated support for a two-state solution," Mr Ahmad said on Twitter.

His trip came amid further violence in the occupied West Bank, where Israeli forces killed a Palestinian on Thursday, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

"Samir Aouni Harbi Aslan, 41, was killed after he was wounded by a bullet of the Israeli occupation army that penetrated his chest during the aggression on Qalandia camp" for Palestinian refugees near Ramallah, it said.

He is the seventh Palestinian to be killed in the West Bank since the start of the year.

On Wednesday, an Israeli civilian shot dead a 19-year-old Palestinian after an attempted stabbing attack near a settlement in the West Bank.

Updated: January 12, 2023, 1:53 PM