The Arab League called on Israel on Thursday to end Jewish prayers inside the compound of Islam’s third holiest shrine in East Jerusalem, warning it was a flagrant affront to Muslim feelings that could trigger wider conflict.
They said while Israel was restricting the right of worship of Muslims in Jerusalem’s Old City, ultra-nationalist Jews under police protection were being allowed at the height of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan to enter the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.
Sitting atop the walled Old City plateau, the site is known to Muslims as Haram al Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, where they believe two ancient temples were located.
“Our demands are clear that Al-Aqsa and Haram al Sharif in all its area is a sole place of worship for Muslims,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al Safadi told reporters alongside the Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit after an emergency meeting in Amman on the matter.
Gheit said Israel was violating centuries-old policy according to which non-Muslims may visit the Al-Aqsa compound, Islam’s third most sacred site after Mecca and Medina, but not pray there.
Israeli leaders have said they are ensuring freedom of worship for all religions in Jerusalem.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque area is the most sensitive site in the generations-old conflict. Tensions this year have been heightened in part by Ramadan coinciding with the Jewish celebration of Passover.
“These violations are a blatant affront and provocation of Muslim feelings everywhere and they risk a cycle of violence that threatens security and stability in the region and the world,” the Arab League said in a statement.
Israel regards the whole of Jerusalem as its capital and the centre of the Jewish faith. It annexed East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, after a 1967 conflict, in a move that has not won international recognition.
An upsurge of violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories in recent weeks has raised fears of a slide back to wider conflict.
Since March, Israeli forces have killed at least 29 Palestinians in West Bank raids, and a series of deadly Arab street attacks have killed 14 people in Israel.
Safadi, who spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week, met senior U.S State Department officials touring the region on Wednesday to discuss reducing tensions.
Safadi said he received assurances Israel would halt Jewish worshippers entry to Al-Aqsa in the last 10 days of Ramadan that starts on Friday, a move widely expected to help defuse tensions.