Middle East Eye / January 13, 2023
Lord Ahmad affirms British support for status quo at religious site during first official visit to Israel and Palestine.
The UK’s Middle East minister visited and prayed at Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem on Thursday, where he emphasized the UK’s support for Jordanian custodianship over the holy site.
Lord Tariq Ahmad visited the mosque after being blocked from entering for 30 minutes by Israeli security forces, according to the BBC.
Ahmad, who is a Muslim, entered the site accompanied by the head of the Islamic Waqf, the religious authority which administers the site.
It was his first official visit to Israel and Palestine since becoming the minister of state for the Middle East and North Africa in June 2017.
“An honour and privilege to spend time at the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque this morning with the director of Jerusalem Waqf Department, Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib,” he tweeted.
“I emphasized the UK’s unwavering support for Jordanian custodianship of Jerusalem’s holy sites and for the status quo.”
Al-Aqsa Mosque is one of the holiest sites in Islam and the site of the Jewish temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.
Jordan has been the official custodian of Christian and Muslim holy places in Jerusalem since 1924.
Since Israel occupied the site following the 1967 Middle East war, Jewish prayer at the site has been forbidden, though far-right Jewish settlers have frequently prayed there under Israeli security in recent years. Some religious activists want to demolish Al-Aqsa Mosque and replace it with a third Jewish temple.
Last week, Israel’s far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, stormed the mosque’s courtyard in what was described as an “unprecedented provocation”.
Ahmad visited the occupied West Bank city of Hebron/Al-Khalil, where he was shown around a school run by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.
He also visited Masafer Yatta, a collection of small Palestinian villages near Hebron that Israel has designated a zone for military exercises. Residents have long been threatened with evictions and demolitions by Israeli authorities.
“I visited the site of a European and UK donor-funded school facing demolition in Masafer Yatta today,” Ahmad said.
“The UK continues to urge Israel to desist demolitions and evictions that cause unnecessary suffering and are illegal under [international humanitarian law] in all but the most exceptional circumstances.”
Ahmad also announced £3.7m ($4.5m) in additional UK funding to UNRWA to provide emergency food assistance to the most vulnerable people in the besieged Gaza enclave.
Earlier during his trip, the British official met with the new Israeli foreign minister, Eli Cohen, who urged the UK to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terror organization.
“I am pleased to be back in Israel and meet with members of the new government,” Ahmad said, upon meeting members of the new government, which has been widely described as the most right-wing in Israel’s history.
“Israel is a valued partner for the UK, and I am excited to continue strengthening our bilateral relations and trade partnership and taking it to new heights.”
Following the visit, Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab British Understanding, accused the UK government of “turning a blind eye to the racist positions of the new Israeli government”.