Israeli minister and settlers perform Jewish prayer in Al-Aqsa compound
An Israeli minister on Wednesday entered Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa compound and performed Talmudic rituals there, in a provocative move that is banned by Israel's own authorities, local media have reported.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, who belongs to the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home Party, entered the compound accompanied by a group of Israeli settlers and protected by armed police, video footage posted online shows.
Jews are forbidden from praying in the Al-Aqsa compound, which lies in occupied East Jerusalem and is one of Islam's holiest sites.
However, according to local media, Ariel and some 40 settlers prayed in front of the Dome of the Rock shrine, under Israeli police protection.
The compound, which includes the famous Al-Aqsa Mosque and iconic Dome of the Rock, is believed to be the site of the Jewish Temple, which was destroyed 2,000 years ago by the Romans.
The last remaining edifice of the temple, the Western Wall, lies adjacent to the compound and is Judaism's holiest site.
Israeli ultranationalists, often settlers, occasionally enter the area and attempt to pray there, but are stopped from doing so by representatives of the Islamic Waqf organisation that administers the site and by the police.
Some right-wing Israeli activists and politicians have called for the destruction of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to make way for a third Jewish temple, and such action is deemed highly provocative.
'They are inciting a religious war with these settlers' activities in Muslim holy places, with no regard to Muslims' right of worship in Al-Aqsa Mosque'
- Khaled Zabarqa, lawyer
In recent weeks, more and more Israeli settlers have been controversially entering the compound. According to the Waqf, 2,800 Israeli settlers “stormed" the Al-Aqsa compound in June alone.
Increasingly, right-wing Israeli activists have sought to build support for an increased Jewish presence at the site, despite a longstanding joint guardianship agreement between Israel and Jordan, which retains control over Christian and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.
Khaled Zabarqa, a Palestinian lawyer with expertise in the rules and regulations surrounding Jerusalem's holy sites, told the Middle East Eye: “The Israeli occupation is trying to change the religious identity of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the identity of Jerusalem, from a Muslim to a Jewish one.”
“They are inciting a religious war with these settlers' activities in Muslim holy places, with no regard to Muslims' right of worship in Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Zabarqa said.
Elsewhere, tensions between Palestinians and Israeli settlers were heightened further as clashes erupted in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday when some 3,500 Israelis visited the flashpoint Joseph's Tomb site.
Five Palestinians were wounded by rubber-coated bullets and tear gas during clashes with Israeli soldiers who were accompanying the settlers.
Joseph's Tomb is a holy site near the Palestinian city of Nablus that is holy to both Jews and Muslims.
Muslims believe an Islamic cleric, Sheikh Yussef Dweikat, was buried there two centuries ago.
Jews believe the site contains the remains of the biblical patriarch Joseph.