Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s far-right minister of national security, entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex in occupied East Jerusalem, provoking criticism from Palestinians who called the move an “unprecedented provocation.”
Ben-Gvir was observed at the location on Tuesday while being heavily guarded.
In response to Hamas’s warning that such an action would cross a “red line,” Ben-Gvir declared in a statement released by his spokesman, “Our government will not surrender to the threats of Hamas.”
He referred to the location by its Jewish name, “The Temple Mount is the most important place for the people of Israel”
“We maintain the freedom of movement for Muslims and Christians, but Jews also go up to the site, and those who make threats must be dealt with with an iron fist.”
The Jewish temple that was demolished by the Romans in 70 CE formerly stood where Al-Aqsa Mosque now stands. It is one of the holiest places in Islam.
Jewish praying at the location has been prohibited since Israel took control of it after the Middle East war in 1967, however extreme right-wing settlers like Ben-Gvir—some of whom want to destroy Al-Aqsa and replace it with a third Jewish temple—have done so quite a bit recently while under heavy protection.
In a statement, the Fatah-opposed Palestinian Authority’s foreign ministry claimed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “responsible for Ben Gvir’s storming of Al-Aqsa and its consequences.”
After his visit, Ben-Gvir posted on Twitter that the location was “open to all” and that “things have changed,” adding that “if Hamas thinks that threatening me will deter me, they should understand that times have changed.”
Being early in the morning and coming a day after Ben-Gvir seemed to change his mind about his plans, the visit appears to have been planned to prevent a confrontation with Palestinians, avoiding a gathering of Palestinians at the location.
Although, the Palestinian foreign ministry stated it “strongly condemns the storming of Al-Aqsa mosque by the extremist minister Ben-Gvir and views it as an unprecedented provocation and a dangerous escalation of the conflict”.
Former Israeli prime minister and head of the opposition, Yair Lapid, had stated on Monday that Ben-intended Gvir’s entry into the facility would spark riots and constitute a “deliberate provocation that will endanger lives.”