Israeli ultranationalist minister visits Jerusalem holy site

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JERUSALEM (AP) — An ultranationalist Israeli Cabinet minister visited a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site for the first time Tuesday since…

JERUSALEM (AP) — An ultranationalist Israeli Cabinet minister visited a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site for the first time Tuesday since taking office in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new far-right government last week.

Itamar Ben-Gvir entered the site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary flanked by a large contingent of police officers.

Ben-Gvir has long called for greater Jewish access to the holy site, which is viewed by Palestinians as provocative and as a potential precursor to Israel taking complete control over the compound. Most rabbis forbid Jews from praying on the site, but there has been a growing movement in recent years of Jews who support worship there.

The site has been the scene of frequent clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces, most recently in April last year.

Ben-Gvir’s stated intention of visiting the site earlier this week drew threats from the Islamic militant group Hamas.

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said that Ben-Gvir entering the site on Tuesday was “a continuation of the Zionist’s occupation aggression on our sacred places and war on our Arab identity.”

“Our Palestinian people will continue defending their holy places and Al-Aqsa mosque,” he said.

The hilltop shrine is the third-holiest site in Islam and an emotional symbol for the Palestinians. It sits on a sprawling esplanade that also is the holiest site for Jews, who call it to the Temple Mount because it was the location of two Jewish temples in antiquity.

The competing claims to the site lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have sparked numerous rounds of violence in the past.

Ben-Gvir is head of the ultranationalist religious Jewish Power faction and has a history of inflammatory remarks and actions against Palestinians.

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