Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday walked back comments made a day earlier calling for the “freedom of worship for Jews” at the flashpoint Temple Mount amid outcry from the Arab world.
Bennett on Sunday called for “freedom of worship for Jews on the [Temple] Mount,” marking a shift from a decades-long policy which forbids Jews from praying at the complex, which constitutes the holiest site in Judaism. Under the current policy, Jews are allowed to visit the site but are barred from uttering prayers — even under their breath or disguised as a sermon — prostrating, or performing any other religious rituals.
On Sunday, close to 2,000 Jews visited the Temple Mount to mark the Jewish fast of Tisha B’av after police cleared the site of violent Palestinian demonstrators who threw stones at police, Israel Police said.
Tisha B’av, which Jews observed from Saturday night until Sunday night, marks the anniversary of the destruction of the two biblical temples, which both stood at the site, in 586 BCE and 70 CE respectively.
In his comments Sunday, Bennett also highlighted that “freedom of worship will also fully be preserved for Muslims,” noting the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha this week.
However, an official in the prime minister’s office speaking on condition of anonymity clarified on Monday the prime minister said Bennett meant both Jews and Muslims have “freedom of visitation rights” on the Temple Mount.
The site, which is the third holiest site in Islam, is administered by the Jordanian Islamic Waqf.
Turkey, Egypt and even Ra’am – the Islamist party in Bennett’s ruling coalition – condemned Jewish ascension to the site.
“The Al-Aqsa Mosque, in its 144 dunams, is solely the property of Muslims, and no one else has any right to it,” the Islamist party said in a joint statement with its parent organization, the Islamic Movement.
“Israeli security forces have once again violated the sanctity of al-Haram al-Sharif by allowing racist Jewish groups to raid al-Aqsa Mosque, attacking Palestinian civilians praying in the area and detaining Palestinian civilians, including children and women, leading to images that offended human dignity,” according to a statement from the Turkish foreign ministry.
Cairo, meanwhile, condemned “the renewed violations of the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque by Israeli extremists under the protection of the Israeli forces,” the Times of Israel cited the Egyptian Foreign Ministry as saying.