Israel Rejects Far-Right Plan for New Limits on Access to Important Mosque

Israel Rejects Far-Right Plan for New Limits on Access to Important Mosque

The Israeli government has decided against putting new restrictions on access to an important mosque in Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a move that may reduce tensions at a site that has long been a flashpoint for unrest.

At a meeting on Tuesday night led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, security officials decided to let a similar number of worshipers enter the Aqsa Mosque compound during Ramadan as they had in previous years, Mr. Netanyahu’s office said. Ramadan, whose start is tied to the sighting of the crescent moon, is expected to begin in a few days.

Israel has long restricted access to the compound, which is sacred to Muslims and Jews alike, during Ramadan for Palestinians from the Israeli-occupied West Bank. This year, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the far-right national security minister, called on the government to impose limits on Arab citizens of Israel as well.

The decision on Tuesday put an end to the plan promoted by Mr. Ben-Gvir, but it allowed some wiggle room. “A weekly assessment of the security and safety aspects will be held; a decision will be made accordingly,” a statement from the prime minister’s office said.

The mosque compound has regularly been the scene of violent clashes. Confrontations at the site in May 2021 contributed to the outbreak of an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.

With Ramadan nearing as the current Israel-Hamas war enters its sixth month, the fear of escalation at the site has intensified. On Tuesday, President Joe Biden said that if a cease-fire deal was not reached by Ramadan, “it’s going to be very dangerous.”

Mansour Abbas, an Arab Israeli member of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, praised the decision. “I congratulate the Prime Minister for the responsible decision to allow Muslim worshipers at Al Aqsa Mosque freedom of worship,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Mr. Ben-Gvir, however, expressed concern that the decision would undermine Israel’s effort to destroy the militant group Hamas, which attacked Israel on Oct. 7. “Hamas celebrations on the Temple Mount ≠ complete victory,” he wrote on X, using the name used by Jews to refer to Al Aqsa.

Hamas previously condemned any Israeli restrictions on worship at Al Aqsa. On Monday, a Hamas leader called on Palestinians to turn the mosque into a site of confrontation.

Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Jerusalem should “turn every moment of Ramadan into a clash and confrontation with the enemy to protect Al Aqsa,” Osama Hamdan, a Hamas leader based in Beirut, told a conference of Muslim scholars by video.

In Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from the site of Al Aqsa, and tens of thousands of Muslims visit the mosque every day during Ramadan. For Jews, the area is revered as the Temple Mount because it was the site of two Jewish temples in antiquity that remain central to Jewish identity.

Matthew Mpoke Bigg contributed reporting.

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