Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef has criticised a visit to the Al Aqsa mosque compound by far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, saying the Chief Rabbinate has "long forbidden" visits.
Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef has criticised a visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound by ultra-nationalist minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.
The visit by Israel’s firebrand National Security Minister on Tuesday has drawn widespread condemnation from across the world, with the Palestinian leadership calling it “an unprecedented provocation”. Türkiye, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have also condemned the visit, which took place just a week after a new government led by Benjamin Netanyahu took office.
“As a minister representing the government of Israel you should be acting according to Chief Rabbinate instructions, which have long forbidden visiting the Temple Mount,” Yosef wrote in a letter to Ben Gvir.
Yosef called on Ben Gvir — who regularly visited the site before becoming a minister — to stop doing so as a government minister “in order not to mislead the public.”
The Chief Rabbinate’s official position is that the site is too holy for Jews to set foot on.
The visit fueled fears of unrest as Palestinian groups threatened to act in response. On Tuesday evening, the Israeli military said a rocket was fired from Gaza into southern Israel, but the projectile fell short and hit in the Hamas-controlled territory.
Ben-Gvir, a settler leader who draws inspiration from a racist rabbi, entered the site on Tuesday flanked by a large contingent of police officers.
READ MORE: Why Israel’s Ben-Gvir move to enter Al Aqsa is seen as ‘provocative’
Located in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem, the Al Aqsa Mosque is the world’s third-holiest site for Muslims. It is known to Jews as the Temple Mount, a holy site believed to be the location of two ancient Jewish temples.
Tensions at the disputed compound have fueled past rounds of violence. A visit by then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon in September 2000 helped spark clashes that became the second Palestinian uprising, or Intifada.
Netanyahu returned to office last week for his sixth term as prime minister, leading the most right-wing government in the country's history. Its goals include expanding West Bank settlements and annexing the occupied territory.
On Monday, the Israeli rights group B’Tselem said 2022 was the deadliest year for Palestinians since 2004, a period of intense violence that came during a Palestinian uprising. It said nearly 150 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The Israeli military has been conducting near-daily raids into Palestinian cities and towns since a spate of Palestinian attacks against Israelis killed 19 last spring. A fresh wave of attacks killed at least another nine Israelis in the fall.
READ MORE: Türkiye, Qatar reiterate condemnation of Israeli provocation at Al Aqsa