The United Arab Emirates and China have called for a UN Security Council meeting after Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in a widely denounced move.
The Council is expected to convene on Thursday, diplomats told Reuters late on Tuesday.
Ben-Gvir’s actions drew fierce condemnation across the world, with Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UAE joining the Palestinians in condemning him. The Palestinian leadership called the intrusion “an unprecedented provocation”.
The Palestinian foreign ministry said it “strongly condemns the storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque by the extremist minister Ben-Gvir and views it as an unprecedented provocation and a dangerous escalation of the conflict”.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh accused Ben-Gvir of staging the trip as part of a bid to turn the shrine “into a Jewish temple”, a goal of many within Israel’s far right.
Hamas, the group that governs the besieged Gaza Strip, warned that Ben-Gvir’s move amounts to crossing a “red line”. The Israeli military said a rocket had been fired from Gaza on Tuesday night, but that it had landed in the Palestinian territory.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement late on Tuesday claiming that he was “committed to strictly maintaining the status quo, without changes, on the Temple Mount [Al-Aqsa Mosque compound]”.
On Tuesday, Israeli media reported that Netanyahu’s planned visit to the UAE next week has been postponed until February, although sources close to the Israeli leader denied it had anything to do with the Al-Aqsa incident.
Israel’s opposition leader and former prime minister Yair Lapid had warned on Monday that Ben-Gvir’s planned entrance to the compound would lead to violence, and called it a “deliberate provocation that will put lives in danger”.
Meanwhile, the US, Israel’s closest ally, expressed deep concern over the developments.
”We’re deeply concerned by any unilateral actions that have the potential to exacerbate tensions precisely because we want to see the opposite happen,” Department of State spokesman Ned Price said.
”The United States stands firmly for the preservation of the historic status quo with respect to the holy sites in Jerusalem.”
He added that any unilateral actions undercutting the status quo were ”unacceptable.”
The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, known as the Temple Mount to Jews, is holy to both Muslims and Jews.
However, Jews have traditionally believed that the site is too holy to be stepped on. On Tuesday, Israel’s Sephardi chief rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef, criticised Ben-Gvir for entering Al-Aqsa.
“What will people say when they see a minister, an observant Jew, who flouts the position of the rabbinate?” he asked.
The compound (also known as al-Haram al-Sharif to Muslims) is a wide, walled plaza in the heart of the Old City in occupied East Jerusalem that incorporates the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. The compound has been managed continuously by Muslims, under a waqf (religious endowment), for hundreds of years.
The Jordanian-funded waqf has continued to administer the site since 1967, while Israel has security control. Under a longstanding agreement, the status quo of the site only permits Muslim prayer, and visits from non-Muslims are only permitted at specific times.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem, where Aal-Aqsa is located, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It annexed the entire city in 1980 in a move never recognised by the international community.