Harline Israeli minister makes controversial visit to Jerusalem shrine
JERUSALEM - A nationalist hardliner in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government on Sunday visited an ultra-sensitive Jerusalem holy site, ending a longstanding ban on such activity.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, of the Jewish Home party, toured the Haram al-Sharif compound housing the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock without any reported incident.
It is located in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
The same site is known to Jews as the Temple Mount and is the holiest in Judaism, revered as the spot where the two biblical Jewish temples once stood.
It is the third-holiest in Islam after Mecca and Medina.
Images posted on the right-wing news site Arutz Sheva showed Ariel with the golden-topped Dome of the Rock behind him.
After his visit, he spoke to Israeli public radio about the "draconian" restrictions placed on Jewish access to the site and the total ban on Jewish prayer there.
"I prayed in my heart," he said.
"There is only one place in the world where such limitations on Jews exist and that is the place which is the most holy to Jews."
Sharren Haskel, a lawmaker from Netanyahu's Likud party, also made the pilgrimage Sunday.
"I am very, very moved today," she said in video posted online by Israel's Channel 10 TV station.
"I am so excited to really get here and to feel the place which is the most holy to us, as a people, as a culture, faith and history."
Netanyahu barred ministers and legislators from entering the flashpoint compound in October 2015 and only a handful of exceptions have been allowed since then.
The ban was meant to help calm unrest that had erupted in part over Palestinian fears that Israel was planning to assert further control over the compound.
A statement on the Israeli parliament website says visits are being allowed to resume under certain conditions, including making the request 24 hours in advance to allow coordination with police.
They would also be limited to no more than one visit every three months, Israeli media reports said.
Israel seized Palestinian east Jerusalem from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it. The move was never recognised by the international community but Israel declared the city its undivided capital.
The Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.