Ben-Gvir's Al Aqsa visit seen as 'particularly inflammatory', UN official says

Al Aqsa compound in East Jerusalem is the third-holiest site in Islam

Israeli police secure Al Aqsa Mosque compound on Tuesday. AP
Powered by automated translation

A top UN official said Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir's visit to Al Aqsa compound in East Jerusalem was seen as “particularly inflammatory” and warned of the risk of violence.

Speaking to the UN Security Council on Thursday, Khaled Khiari, the assistant secretary general for political and peacebuilding affairs, said all sides should work to lower tension following the minister's visit this week.

“While the visit was not accompanied or followed by violence, it is seen as particularly inflammatory, given Mr Ben Gvir’s past advocacy for changes to the status quo,” Mr Khiari said at the emergency session called by the UAE and China.

“As we have seen numerous times in the past, the situation at Jerusalem’s holy sites is deeply fragile, and any incident or tension there can spill over and cause violence throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, in Israel and elsewhere in the region.”

Mr Khiari reiterated UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres's call for all parties to refrain from steps that could “escalate tension in and around the holy sites and for all to uphold the status quo, in line with the special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan”.

During the meeting at the Security Council on Thursday, the UAE said Mr Ben-Gvir's visit could destabilise the fragile situation in the occupied Palestinian territory.

“The UAE strongly condemns the storming of Al Aqsa Mosque courtyard by an Israeli minister under the protection of Israeli forces,” said the UAE Mission to the UN.

"Such provocative actions reflect a lack of commitment to the existing historical and legal status of the holy sites in Jerusalem and further destabilise the fragile situation in the occupied Palestinian territories."

Visits such as this "constitute a serious development that moves the region further away from the desired path of peace" and "contribute to fueling extremism and hatred in the region”, it said.

Mohamed Abushahab, the UAE's deputy ambassador to the UN, said Mr Ben-Gvir's visit reflected a lack of commitment to the existing historic and legal status of Jerusalem's holy sites.

“They also constitute a serious development that moves the region further away from the desired path of peace and contribute to perpetuating the negative trends of the conflict,” Mr Abushahab said.

Before the council meeting, Israel's ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, told reporters the visit was “not an incursion” into Al Aqsa, and “whoever claims otherwise is only inflaming the situation”.

The emergency meeting was requested after Mr Ben-Gvir, a far-right leader who has previously called for the status quo in Jerusalem to be changed, visited Al Aqsa, a site also revered by Jews.

“The Temple Mount is open to all,” Mr Ben-Gvir said on Twitter, using the Jewish name for the site. Video footage showed him strolling along the periphery of the compound, surrounded by a heavy security detail.

Mr Ben-Gvir's visit sparked a wave of international condemnation, including from Israel's close ally the US.

Although the visit to the holy site passed without incident, it risked increasing friction with Palestinians after a surge of violence in the West Bank in 2022.

Al Aqsa is located in East Jerusalem and is the third-holiest site in Islam.

Under a long-standing status quo, non-Muslims can visit the site at specific times, but are not allowed to pray there.

In recent years, a growing number of Jewish people, most of them Israeli nationalists, have covertly prayed at the compound, a development decried by Palestinians.

Israeli police confront Palestinian protesters at Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque — in pictures

Updated: January 06, 2023, 5:47 AM