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Israeli police 'block' Jordanian envoy from entering Al-Aqsa Mosque

Amman sends 'strong letter of protest' to the Israeli government amid fears of undermining Jordanian authority in the site
Palestinians pray in Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem on 6 January 2023 (Rueters)
Palestinians pray in Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem on 6 January 2023 (Reuters)

Israeli forces held up Jordan’s ambassador to Israel at an entrance to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque on Tuesday, prompting condemnation from Amman. 

Ghassan Majali was stopped at Bab al-Asbat (Lions' Gate), leading to the mosque, and asked to present permission to visit the site. 

The envoy then left in protest, according to Palestinian media reports.

Israeli police said they didn't refuse Majali from entering, according to the Times of Israel

It explained that the officer at the scene did not recognise Majali and was asking his commander for clarification, causing the delay. 

Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in Islam, is under the custodianship of Jordan.

Amman has recently warned that Israel, under the new far right-influenced government, is attempting to change the status quo at the site. 

The Jordanian foreign ministry said it called Israel’s ambassador in Amman for talks over the incident on Tuesday. 

"We have delivered a strong letter of protest to the ambassador to relay to his government," the ministry said in a statement.  

"The Jordanian government condemns any measures aimed at interfering in the affairs of Al-Aqsa Mosque," it added. 

Jordanian MP Khalil Attiyah called the "blocking" of Majali from entering Al-Aqsa a "provocation".

"This is a provocative aggression and a direct assault on the custodianship of Jordan, it’s a dangerous precedent," he said. 

'The Jordanian government condemns any measures aimed at interfering in the affairs of Al-Aqsa Mosque'

- The Jordanian foreign ministry

As part of a decades-old understanding between Israel and Jordan - the custodian of Islamic and Christian sites in Jerusalem - the affairs of the mosque are meant to be the sole responsibility of the Waqf, a joint Jordanian-Palestinian Islamic trust.

Under the agreement, commonly referred to as the status quo, Muslims should be allowed to enter the mosque without restrictions while non-Muslims can visit after approval from the Waqf. 

Israeli authorities have repeatedly violated provisions of the agreement and facilitated visits by settlers and ultranationalists without the Waqf’s approval. 

Israeli police have been recently accused of turning a blind eye to Jewish prayer taking place in the courtyards of the mosque, in what Palestinians and Jordanians warn is a dangerous violation of the status quo. 

'Religious war'

Also on Tuesday, the Waqf-appointed director of Al-Aqsa Mosque, Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, was stopped by Israeli police at one of the entrances and was briefly questioned and searched.  

Earlier this month, Israeli police summoned Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, Al-Aqsa Mosque’s imam, for interrogations. 

Members of the Netanyahu-led government have advocated for sweeping changes to the status quo since coming to power, causing diplomatic tensions. 

On 3 January, Israel's far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque and called for Jews to have the same rights that Muslims enjoy on the site.  

His visit caused widespread outrage and prompted a UN Security Council meeting

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When Jordanian King Abdullah II was asked last month if he felt Israel's new government threatened the status quo in Jerusalem and the Hashemite custodianship, he said "If people want to get into a conflict with us, we are quite prepared.

"We have set red lines and if people want to push those red lines, then we will deal with that."

Azzam al-Khatib, director of the Waqf, told Middle East Eye last year that Israel is "working seriously" to change the status quo, which could cause a "religious war".

"It is preventing the work of the mosque. There are many security barriers on the perimeters. Israeli security forces are all over Al-Aqsa and all over the courtyard. They can prevent anyone they want from entering. They detain Muslims. They have stopped more than 20 major projects.

"Al-Aqsa has been grabbed by an iron fist," Khatib continued: "God forbid if Israel changes the status quo. That would lead to a religious war that would extend far beyond Al-Aqsa Mosque."

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