UNSC to discuss Israeli minister's Al-Aqsa visit

Members of the United Nations Security Council attend a meeting about the ongoing situation in Ukraine on May 05, 2022 in New York City.— AFP
Members of the United Nations Security Council attend a meeting about the ongoing situation in Ukraine on May 05, 2022 in New York City.— AFP

UNITED NATIONS/UNITED STATES: The UN Security Council will meet Thursday to discuss the controversial visit to Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound by an Israeli minister that has enraged Palestinians.

The 15-member Council will convene at 3:00 pm (2000 GMT) at the United Nations headquarters in New York following a request by the United Arab Emirates and China.

"It is the international community that decides the fate of defending and protecting the historic status quo in Jerusalem in the defence of the Islamic and Christian sites in Jerusalem," Palestinian ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour said.

"We will not be satisfied with beautiful statements which will be uttered tomorrow in the Security Council. We want them to be implemented in a concrete way," he added.

There have been fears Tuesday's visit by Israel's new national security minister, firebrand Itamar Ben-Gvir, could spark a war.

Al-Aqsa mosque lies in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem and is the third-holiest site in Islam. It is the most sacred place to Jews, who refer to it as Temple Mount.

Under a longstanding status quo, non-Muslims can visit the site at specific times but are not allowed to pray there.

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

Western governments warned such moves threaten the fragile arrangement at Jerusalem´s holy sites.

Ben-Gvir's visit sparked a wave of international condemnation, including from the United States, a longstanding ally of Israel.

"This is an action of extremism that purports to create a new cycle of violence," Jordan´s ambassador to the UN Mahmoud Daifallah Hmoud said.

"The Security Council has to take its responsibility seriously and stop such attempts," he added.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN chief Antonio Guterres, reiterated Wednesday that the secretary-general "calls on all to refrain from steps that could escalate tensions in and around Jerusalem."

The UN Security Council has adopted several resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the years and supports the two-state solution to peace in the Middle East.

Global outrage

Al Aqsa is a symbol for Palestinian hopes of securing a state, a goal that looks ever bleaker with Ben-Gvir and other far-right allies now in Netanyahu's government.

The European Union's Middle East envoy Sven Koopmans said the status quo must be maintained.

US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides "has been very clear in conversations with the Israeli government on the issue of preserving the status quo", a US embassy statement said.

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, both among the few Arab states to have recognised Israel, condemned the visit, and Saudi Arabia also criticised Ben-Gvir's action.

Turkey, which has recently ended a long-running diplomatic rift with Israel, condemned the visit as "provocative."

Al Aqsa compound, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, is Islam's third holiest site. It is also Judaism's most sacred site, a vestige of two ancient Jewish temples.

Israel deems all of Jerusalem its indivisible capital - a status not recognised internationally. Palestinians want East Jerusalem, where the compound is located, as capital of a state also taking in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

On Tuesday, pious Jews fasted to commemorate a Babylonian siege on the first of those temples, in the 6th century BC.

Ben-Gvir oversees Israeli police who are formally tasked with enforcing the ban on Jewish prayer at the compound. He said that freedom of movement would be upheld there, without any mention of freedom of worship.

Not far from the compound, Israel police said on Tuesday they were investigating the vandalising of gravestones at the Protestant Mount Zion Cemetery.

Security camera footage circulating on social media showed two young men, one dressed in Orthodox Jewish garb, entering the graveyard, pulling down a cross-shaped tombstone and smashing it with rocks. Reuters could not immediately verify the footage.