A far-right politician who wants Jews to be allowed to pray at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa compound has visited the site, defying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s calls for restraint after clashes this week between Israeli police and Palestinians.
Sunday was the first day the compound was open to non-Muslims since an Israeli-American activist was shot and seriously wounded after speaking out against the prayer ban.
Likud lawmaker Moshe Feiglin, an Orthodox Jew, spent about an hour at the site. He bowed his head next to a Muslim man praying on his knees and posed for pictures in front of the Dome of the Rock.
As he walked backwards from the Dome in supplication, ringed by armed police, Muslims chanted “Allahu Akbar”.
“All the nations have their holiest site, some in Mecca, some in Rome, some in the Far East. We the Jewish people have one place; it’s this place,” Feiglin told the Reuters news agency after leaving the compound. “It cannot and it will not be taken away from us.”
Feiglin has become a thorn in Netanyahu’s side with a campaign to change the status quo of the complex, run by Jordan’s religious authorities, who for decades have allowed Jews to visit Al-Aqsa but not pray there.
Activist Yehuda Glick was shot after a Wednesday conference in Jerusalem, where he had called for Jews to have the freedom to pray at Al-Aqsa.
The Palestinian man suspected of shooting Glick was fatally shot by Israeli troops the next day, leading to clashes that prompted Israel to shut all access to Al-Aqsa.
Netanyahu called on Sunday for calm and restraint.
“It is very easy to set religious fires. It is much harder to extinguish them,” he said at his weekly cabinet meeting. “What we need now is for tempers to cool.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hailed Netanyahu’s call as a “step in the right direction”.
East Jerusalem is the scene of almost daily clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli riot police. The area, where two ancient Jewish temples once stood, is the holiest place in Judaism and the third holiest site in Islam.
The Arab League on Sunday said Israel had reached a “red line”, with deputy chief Ahmed Ben Hilli warning: “Touching Jerusalem will lead to results with untold consequences.”