Arab countries say Israel has no right to let Jewish worshippers into Al-Aqsa

Khaled Yacoub Oweis

The National  /  April 21, 2022

Violence at the historic flashpoint threatens to ignite another Israeli-Palestinian war.

Israel does not have jurisdiction to decide who enters Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, Arab League officials said on Thursday after a meeting to discuss increasing violence at the site.

Israel’s use of force at Al-Aqsa – the third holiest site in Islam – is thought to have contributed to a resumption of hostilities this week between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip. Several rockets were fired into southern Israel from Gaza overnight and on Thursday as Israeli aircraft bombed targets in the Palestinian enclave.

“Al Aqsa is a place of worship purely for Muslims,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said, after the meeting in Amman of the Arab League Committee on Jerusalem.

The committee said the Jordanian ministry of Waqf (Islamic property) “owns the exclusive specialty of managing the affairs of the shrine and organizing entry to it”.

The committee comprises Jordan, Tunisia Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Qatar, Egypt and Morocco. The UAE attended the meeting as a rotating member of the UN Security Council with Khalifa Shaheen Al Marar, Minister of State, heading the UAE delegation.

An Arab League statement issued after the meeting said only Jordanian authorities can decide whether non-Muslims can enter Al-Aqsa.

The committee also called on the international community, especially the UN Security Council, to take steps to “stop the illegal Israeli practices in Jerusalem and the [Al-Aqsa compound].”

Scores of Palestinians have been wounded around Al-Aqsa since last Friday during confrontations with Israeli forces using rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades.

The violence comes as Muslims observe the holy month of Ramadan, which coincides this year with the Jewish festival of Passover, and followed attacks over the past two months by Palestinian militants that killed 14 people in Israel and Israeli raids on the occupied West Bank that killed more than 20 Palestinians.

The escalation has raised fears of another war between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza. The two sides fought an 11-day war in May last year, partly triggered by what Palestinians viewed as Israeli transgressions at Al-Aqsa.

“We cannot accept any aggression on Al-Aqsa. The discussion today reflected this position. Between now and end of Ramadan is a critical period,” Mr Al Safadi said.

The kingdom has custodianship of Al-Aqsa, which was under Jordanian administration until Israel occupied East Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Jordan has sought a bigger role in international efforts to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict after being side-lined by the US during the four years of Donald Trump’s administration, which focused on Arab normalization with Israel.

The Jordanian claim to administer Al-Aqsa traces back to the early 20th century, when Palestinian notables gave the Sharif of Makkah, an ancestor of Jordan’s King Abdullah II, custodianship of the site.

Jordan’s 1994 peace treaty with Israel does not mention the custodianship, but says Israel respects Jordan’s “special role” in Jerusalem’s Muslim holy shrines.

Khaled Yacoub Oweis – Amman, Jordan