Israeli police today decided to lengthen the period of time dedicated to Jewish and non-Muslim visits to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem.
Sheikh Azzam Al-Khatib, the director of the Islamic Endowment (Waqf), which is in charge of managing Al-Aqsa under Jordanian supervision, told Ma'an that Israeli police notified the Waqf of their decision to allow non-Muslims to visit the compound from 7:30 to 11am, extending the allocated time by one hour.
While Jewish visitation is permitted to the compound, non-Muslim worship is prohibited according to an agreement signed between Israel and the Jordanian government after Israel's illegal occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.
Despite this agreement, the Israeli authorities regularly allow Jewish visitors to enter the site – often under the protection of armed guards – and to carry out prayers at the holy site in violation of the international agreement. Such visits are typically made by right-wingers attempting to unsettle the status quo at the site, and coincide with restrictions on Palestinian access, including bans on entrance and detentions.
Meanwhile, the permitted visitation hours for non-Muslims are routinely used by right-wing Israelis to tour the Al-Aqsa compound, heightening tensions with Palestinian worshippers.
Al-Khatib said that the Israeli government was "yielding to the extremist right-wing that has been attempting to unsettle the status quo at Al-Aqsa," noting that the move was another attempt by the Israeli government to "impose facts on the ground".
"This is a violation of his majesty King Abdullah II and we will defend his custody with all the power we have," Al-Khatib said, while also warning of consequences that could result from Israeli "provocations and incursions into the compound."
Meanwhile, the Mufti of Jerusalem and Imam of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Muhammad Hussein, warned that the shift in policy could result in consequences, adding that the decision has unveiled the "aggressive intentions" of Israeli authorities to enforce divisions at Al-Aqsa, referring to a longstanding fear among Palestinians that Israel would divide the Al-Aqsa Mosque between Muslims and Jews, as they did with the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron.
Hussein confirmed his rejection of any Israeli interventions around the management of Al-Aqsa, and encouraged all Muslims to reject Jewish extremism directed at the compound, adding that only Muslims had the right to intervene in the affairs of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
In addition, the religious leader urged all Muslims to visit Al-Aqsa to support the holy site against Israeli plans and the occupation, while calling upon Islamic and Arab nations to assist in the protection of Al-Aqsa and Jerusalem.
Severe restrictions on movement for Palestinians are typically implemented by Israeli authorities for alleged security purposes, particularly during Jewish holidays, while tensions around Al-Aqsa Mosque were a main contributor to increasing unrest that began last October, after right-wing Israelis made frequent visits to the site during the Jewish high holiday season last year.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits just above the Western Wall plaza, houses both the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The third holiest site in Islam, it is also venerated as Judaism's most holy place, as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.