03/28/2017, 18.22
ISRAEL – PALESTINE
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Tensions rise as Israeli settlers visit daily the Temple Mount

In 2016, more than 14,000 settlers visited the Muslim holy site (where the ancient Jewish temple once stood). The visits of Jewish extremists have sparked clashes between Muslims and police.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Continuous visits by Jewish settlers to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount is increasing tensions.

A group of 53 settlers provocatively toured the holy site on Sunday, whilst Palestinian worshippers chanted religious slogans to protest their repeated visit.

According to figures released by the Jordan-run Islamic Awqaf Department, 14,806 Israeli Jewish settlers visited the al-Aqsa mosque compound in 2016 alone.

Jordan is officially custodian of the Muslim holy place, which is also claimed by Jews, especially Orthodox, since it stands where the Temple of Jerusalem once stood.

Under the rules of the status quo, the esplanade can only be used by Muslims as a place of prayer, something that Israel has to uphold.

Yet, settlers are not new to making provocative visits, which have become an almost daily occurrence. In fact, the Haaretz newspaper has reported in fact a rise in Jewish visitors.

On 9 March, the Feast of Esther, which precedes the Purim holiday, 96 Jews visited the Temple Mount – 60 per cent more than on the same fast day last year. Steadily, the number of Jewish visitors has been rising over the past six months.

Clashes between Muslims and Israeli police have increased in recent years as a result of visits by Jewish extremists who believe that the mosque should be destroyed to make way for a Jewish temple.

In April 2016 Jewish activists were arrested for bringing lambs to the esplanade to be sacrificed for Passover.

Last year, when unrest came with only ten days left until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the Israeli government decided to ban Jewish and Arab politicians from the site. If conditions allow, the ban should end this year after Ramadan in late June.

The violence however has not stopped. Overnight on 12-13 March, Ibrahim Mattar, 25, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem, stabbed two Border Police officers before he was killed.

“The attack was no surprise for many in East Jerusalem,” wrote Haaretz columnist Nir Hasson on 14 March. “It occurred during a period in which there has been increased talk that Israel is attempting to oust Muslims from Haram al-Sharif (known as Temple Mount to Jews).

Although the sense of threat is "unjustified", tensions are exacerbated by the recent verdict of a judge at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court. In the sentence convicting a Palestinian woman for attacking Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, a Knesset member, on the Esplanade, he “ruled that the Temple Mount is also a holy place for Jews”.

Again Hasson, on 13 March, wrote “if all of this wasn’t enough, the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported Monday that Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev and Zeev Elkin, minister of Jerusalem affairs and heritage, are establishing a government fund for the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation. The fund aims to invest government money in fostering a Jewish connection to the Temple Mount.

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