Israeli ban on MP visits to flashpoint holy site challenged


An Israeli lawmaker petitioned the Supreme Court on Tuesday against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ban on visits by MPs and ministers to a flashpoint religious site in Jerusalem, his office said.

The petition comes with concerns over whether violence will again flare up for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover beginning on 10 April. The ban was aimed at helping restore calm following a previous upsurge in violence.

Yehuda Glick, who was once shot over his campaign for Jewish prayer rights at the site, calls the 17-month ban "discriminatory" in the petition.

The hilltop site in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem is known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif compound, which includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock and to Jews as the Temple Mount. The holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest in Islam, it is central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In October 2015 Netanyahu instructed police to bar ministers and lawmakers from visiting. The order was part of attempts to restore calm following an outburst of Palestinian violence, fuelled in part by fears among Muslims that Israel was planning to assert further control over the site.

Jews are allowed to visit the compound but not pray there and the site has been the scene of regular incidents when Jews try to break the rule and Muslims intervene to stop them.

On Monday, Israeli media reported that Netanyahu had decided to re-examine the ban at the end of June, after the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. But Glick went ahead with his petition nonetheless, railing in a video against the "intolerable and strange reality".

"This is a place that any person from around the world can enter except (Israeli) lawmakers," he said.

Glick noted a "return of calm" at the compound following Israel's 2015 decision to outlaw the Murabitat and Murabitun, funded by the Islamic Movement in Israel and acting as self-appointed sentinels who harassed Jewish visitors.

The petition accused Netanyahu's ban of being "political" and running counter to police evaluations, which Glick says recommended allowing ministers and lawmakers – both Jewish and Muslim – to visit the compound again.

The US-born Glick, an ordained rabbi, nearly lost his life over his outspoken campaign for Jewish prayer rights at the site in October 2014, when a masked gunman shot him four times. A day later, police shot and killed his suspected attacker, Muataz Hijazi, a Palestinian from east Jerusalem.

In March 2016, Glick visited the site for the first time since his assassination attempt, but two months later he was sworn in as a member of parliament and became subject to Netanyahu's ban.

A wave of violence that broke out in October 2015 has claimed the lives of 257 Palestinians, 40 Israelis, two Americans, one Jordanian, an Eritrean and a Sudanese national, according to news agency figures.

Most of the Palestinians killed were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, according to Israeli authorities. Others were shot dead during protests or clashes, while some were killed in Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip.

The violence has greatly subsided in recent months.    (AFP)

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