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Palestinian Muslim access to Temple Mount reportedly will be limited during Ramadan amid Hamas war in Gaza

Defense minister, IDF officials and Shin Bet security warn that restrictions will fuel tensions

Thousands of Palestinians attend Eid prayers at the Al Aqsa Mosque, in Jerusalem's Old City, marking the muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, June 28, 2023. (Photo: Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir decided on Sunday to establish limitations on Muslim access to the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, according to multiple Israeli media reports.

Israel typically permits Palestinians from the West Bank to visit the Temple Mount during Ramadan, with security protocols in place.

However, security officials are concerned that the current war in Gaza this year could potentially ignite unprecedented levels of violence on the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism and the third most important site in Islam.

The Ramadan policy meeting, which was attended by Israeli security officials and several key government leaders, was called specifically to formulate a security policy regarding Muslim Temple Mount visits during the upcoming month of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, which begins on March 10.

According to the Netanyahu government's decision, Palestinian Muslims from the West Bank over age 60 or under age 10 will be allowed to visit the Temple Mount holy site, while limitations on Arab-Israeli Muslim citizens will be "examined," according to media reports.

Approximately 15,000 West Bank Palestinians meet the criteria and an additional "tens of thousands" of residents of East Jerusalem and Muslim Israeli citizens will also be allowed entry, but Israel Police will first examine the option of an age limit for the latter groups.

All of Israel's War Cabinet ministers were in attendance – Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, and National Unity Party ministers Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot.

In addition to Ben Gvir, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, Foreign Minister Israel Katz and Shas Knesset Member Aryeh Deri were also present for the discussions.

The reported Temple Mount visitation policy during Ramadan has already garnered opposition from Defense Minister Gallant, Shin Bet domestic intelligence authorities, and Israeli army officials, who warned that the decision could fuel tensions and lead to violence.

Israeli-Arab Knesset Member Walid Al-Hawashla, a Palestinian politician who represents the Islamic Ra'am party, condemned the decision and warned of the potential consequences. He accused Netanyahu of capitulating to Ben Gvir, exacerbating tensions in Jerusalem.

Ben Gvir reportedly wanted to deny entry to all West Bank Muslims and only allow Arab-Israeli Muslims above age 70 to visit the holy site during Ramadan.

Shin Bet warned that preventing certain Muslim segments from visiting the site could lead to more violence and had originally called for free entry to Arab-Israeli Muslims, and to allow West Bank Muslims above the age of 45 to visit the Temple Mount.

Israel Police had reportedly recommended permitting Arab-Israeli Muslims from age 45 and West Bank Muslims from age 60 to enter.

Ben Gvir blasted security officials for ignoring the mistakes of the Oct. 7 massacres and expressed concerns that a less restrictive policy could lead to tens of thousands of Hamas flags displayed on the Temple Mount, and result in outbreaks of violence.

"It is forbidden in any way to allow the entry of residents from the 'Palestinian' authority into Israeli territory. It cannot be that abducted women are being raped in Gaza, and Israel will allow a celebration of the victory of Hamas on the Temple Mount. The positions of some of the security officials who recommend approving the massive entry of Arab residents of the West Bank to the Temple Mount shows that they learned nothing from October 7,” stated Ben Gvir.

Some pundits have accused Ben Gvir of harboring anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments. However, the hawkish security minister argued that his restrictive policy was based on the findings from a PA poll.

"I recommend that those security officials take a look at the polls conducted in the Palestinian Authority, where they will discover the tremendous support for the massacre committed by Hamas on October 7," the security minister said.

"I will strongly oppose the entry of West Bank Arab residents into Israel and I hope that the rest of my colleagues will behave the same way."

On Saturday evening, Israel's KAN news outlet quoted sources from Jerusalem's Islamic Waqf, which administers the Temple Mount site, stating it was "very worried about the intentions of irresponsible officials in the Israeli government to further ignite the Middle East, via provocations and sanctions against Muslim prayer-goers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque during the month of Ramadan."

The reference to "irresponsible officials in the Israeli government" was most likely directed at Ben Gvir, the head of national security, who has a history of igniting controversy when it comes to the Temple Mount.

In January 2023, many Middle Eastern and Western governments condemned Ben Gvir for visiting the Temple Mount during the Jewish holiday of Tisha B'Av.

At the time, Hamas spokesman Hazem Kassem called Ben Gvir's move “an escalation of a religious war the occupation is waging against Jerusalem and al-Aqsa."

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which formally acts as the custodian of the mosques on the Temple Mount, blasted Ben Gvir’s visit as “a provocative step that is condemned, and represents a flagrant and unacceptable violation of international law, and of the existing historical and legal status in Jerusalem and its sanctities.”

The U.S. Embassy in Israel issued a somewhat softer criticism of Ben Gvir’s Temple Mount visit at the time, stating that then-Ambassador Tom Nides "has been very clear in conversations with the Israeli government on the issue of preserving the status quo in Jerusalem’s holy sites. Actions that prevent that are unacceptable.”

The term ”status quo” refers to the current situation regarding the religious site, where only Muslims are permitted to pray at the Temple Mount, which is also sacred to Jews and Christians.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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