UN Security Council raises concern over controversial visit to Al Aqsa Mosque's courtyards by Israel's far-right minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has in past advocated for changes to status quo that allows only Muslims to worship at the site.

Riyad Mansour, Palestine's envoy to UN, speaks as Israel's ambassador Gilad Erdan looks during a heated meeting to discuss storming of Al Aqsa Mosque compound by Israeli minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.
Riyad Mansour, Palestine's envoy to UN, speaks as Israel's ambassador Gilad Erdan looks during a heated meeting to discuss storming of Al Aqsa Mosque compound by Israeli minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. (Reuters)

Palestine and many Muslim and non-Muslim supporters have sharply disagreed with Israel at an emergency UN Security Council meeting over the visit of a firebrand Israeli Cabinet minister to a flashpoint East Jerusalem holy site.

The UNSC members voiced concern on Thursday and stressed the need to maintain a status quo at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem, days after Israel's notorious Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir stormed the holy site, sparking backlash and widespread criticism.

Palestine's UN envoy Riyad Mansour pushed for the Security Council to take action — a move that was unlikely given the United States traditionally shields Israel. The United States, Russia, China, France and Britain are all council veto powers.

"What red line does Israel need to cross for the Security Council to finally say, enough is enough," Mansour told the 15-member council, accusing Israel of showing "absolute contempt."

Mansour, said Ben-Gvir, a West Bank illegal settler leader who draws inspiration from a racist rabbi, didn't go to visit the site, "but to pursue his extremist view, to end the historic status quo". 

Calling Ben-Gvir "an extremist minister of an extremist state" who was convicted of incitement and is known for his "racist views," Mansour said the Israeli minister is committed to allowing Jews to pray at al Haram al-Sharif. He urged the Security Council and all countries to stop this from happening, and "to uphold international law and the historic status quo," warning that "if they don't, our Palestinian people will."

READ MORE: UNSC to discuss troublemaker Israel minister's visit to Palestine's Al Aqsa

READ MORE: Why Israel’s Ben-Gvir move to enter Al Aqsa is seen as ‘provocative’

Al Aqsa status quo 

Al Aqsa Mosque lies in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem and is the third-holiest site in Islam.

The decades-old status quo allows only Muslim worship at the compound, a site also revered by Jews, who call it the Temple Mount. Non-Muslims can visit the complex when Muslims are not praying, but they are not allowed to pray there under the status quo.

In recent years, a growing number of Jews, most of them Israeli nationalists and illegal settlers, have covertly prayed at the compound, a development decried by Palestinians.

Senior UN political affairs official, Khaled Khiari, told the council it was the first visit to the site by an Israeli cabinet minister since 2017.

"While the visit was not accompanied or followed by violence, it is seen as particularly inflammatory given Mr Ben-Gvir's past advocacy for changes to the status quo," he said.

Israel's UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan told reporters ahead of the meeting: "Jews are permitted to visit the holiest site in Judaism. It is the right of every Jew, every Jew. Israel has not harmed the status quo and has no plans to do so."

Ben-Gvir once called for ending the ban on Jewish prayer at the site, but has been non-committal on the issue since aligning with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

Other members of Ben-Gvir's Jewish Power party still advocate such a move.

When Ben-Gvir stormed the site on Tuesday he described it as "the most important place for the Jewish people" and said such visits would continue.

READ MORE: Türkiye, Qatar reiterate condemnation of Israeli provocation at Al Aqsa

Russia, China call on Israel to halt provocations

The United States is committed to a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine and was "concerned by any unilateral acts that exacerbate tensions or undermine the viability of a two-state solution," US Deputy UN Ambassador Robert Wood told the council.

"We note that Prime Minister Netanyahu's governing platform calls for preservation of the status quo with relation to the holy places. We expect the Government of Israel to follow through on that commitment," Wood said.

Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the visit by Ben-Gvir to the Al Aqsa Mosque complex was a "cause of serious concern'' and violating the historic status of occupied Jerusalem was ''unacceptable.''

China's UN envoy Zhang Jun said the act of the Israeli official has resulted in a ''fragile and grave situation'' on the ground and called on Israel to stop all incitements and provocations and to refrain from any unilateral actions.

The UAE's deputy ambassador to the UN, Mohamed Abushahab, condemned ''the serious provocations that threaten the Al Aqsa Mosque, and the storming of the mosque by an Israeli minister under the protection of Israeli forces."

He said that such provocative actions further destabilise the fragile situation in the occupied Palestinian territories and constitute a serious development that moves the region further away from the desired path of peace.

The UN Security Council has adopted several resolutions on Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine over the years and supports the two-state solution to peace in the Middle East.

READ MORE: Who is Itamar Ben Gvir, the settler leader whipping up Jerusalem tensions?

Source: TRTWorld and agencies