Jewish religious hardliner returns to Al-Aqsa mosque compound after ban

Friday 26/02/2016
He has coordinated Tuesday\'s visit with police

JERUSALEM - Israeli religious hardliner Yehuda Glick visited the Al-Aqsa mosque compound Tuesday for the first time since a Palestinian tried to kill him over his campaign to boost the Jewish presence at the highly sensitive site.

The site in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem is the third-holiest in Islam, but is also revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and considered their holiest.

Clashes there last year were a precursor to the current five-month wave of violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and there were warnings that the visit by Glick, who has previously been banned from the site, could set off further tensions.

Glick has been an outspoken advocate of Jewish rights to the holy site, which Muslims and Palestinians consider a provocation. He has also guided visits there.

The 50-year-old US-born rabbi carried out "a legal visit to the Temple Mount that took place without incident," a police spokeswoman said.

A spokesman for the Waqf, the Muslim trust which administers the site, said Glick's "actions and statements are provocations against Palestinians. The visit bodes ill."

Glick was on October 29, 2014 shot four times by a masked gunman in Jerusalem. A day later, police shot and killed his suspected attacker, Muataz Hijazi, a Palestinian from east Jerusalem.

The rabbi is also a thorn in the side of the mainstream Israeli Jewish religious establishment, which recognises the Temple Mount as the site of the biblical temples and Judaism's holiest, but says Jews should not pray or even visit there at this time.

Current rules governing the site allow Jews to visit during set hours but not pray there to avoid provoking tensions.

A court recently exonerated Glick of a charge of assaulting a Palestinian woman, and removed the police ban on him visiting the holy site.

Glick, who is a member of the ruling Likud party and next in line to enter parliament, had also been barred from the site between 2011-2013 for praying there.

Glick said that while there were no restrictions on his visits beyond those that apply to other non-Muslims, he had coordinated Tuesday's visit with the police.

He said it felt like "returning home" after the long absence.

Glick said tensions at the site had been dramatically lowered since Israel's September ban on the Murabitat and Murabitun, funded by the Islamic Movement in Israel and acting as self-appointed sentinels who harassed Jewish visitors.

A wave of violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories since October has killed 178 Palestinians as well as 28 Israelis, an American, a Sudanese and an Eritrean.

Most of the Palestinians who died in the violence were killed by Israeli forces while carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, according to Israeli authorities.

Clashes erupted at the Al-Aqsa compound during a series of Jewish religious holidays in September amid fears among Muslims that Israel was planning to change rules governing the site.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said repeatedly there are no such plans.