Jordan condemns visit of 'extremist' Jews to holy site


Jordan on Monday condemned Israel for allowing "extremist" Jews to visit Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is holy to both Muslims and Jews, saying such action could spark a "religious war".

Jordan is the custodian of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem and has repeatedly denounced what it says are violations of rules at the site, Islam's third holiest.

Jews, who consider the compound their holiest site and call it the Temple Mount, are allowed to visit but not to pray on the esplanade in order to avoid tensions with Muslims who worship there.

On Sunday, about 400 Jews entered the compound to commemorate the destruction of two ancient temples, but several who tried to pray there were expelled by Israeli police while two were detained.

Jordan's Minister of Islamic Affairs and Awqaf (religious property), Wael Arabiyat, denounced Israel for allowing "Zionist extremists" to enter and pray at the compound.

"Pursuing such measures could spark a religious war in the region," Arabiyat warned. Arabiyat also denounced Israeli police for allegedly "arresting and beating" Muslim worshippers at the site.

Israeli police on Sunday said Muslims had gathered around two Jews who were being expelled from the compound and began yelling at them. Police pushed them away and three Muslims were lightly injured in the scuffle.

Jordan's King Abdullah II also denounced "repeated violations and transgressions by Israel and extremist groups and their blatant attempts to change the status quo in Jerusalem," in an interview published on Monday by the semi-official Addustour newspaper.

"We will persist in undertaking our religious and historical responsibilities towards Al-Aqsa mosque.... which faces repeated violations by extremist groups," he said. "As the Custodian of Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, I will continue my efforts to protect these places and stand up against all violations of their sanctity," he said.

Jews on Sunday were commemorating the religious day of mourning known as Tisha B'av.

Palestinian fears of Israeli intentions to undermine Muslim control of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound were a key factor in a wave of violence that erupted 10 months ago. Palestinians argue that Israel is seeking to change the status quo at the compound, a claim that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly denied.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed the territory in a move never recognised by the international community.    (AFP)

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