Israel minister to push for Jewish prayer at al-Aqsa

Israel's minister of religion will seek to amend the law in order to allow Jews to pray at the flashpoint al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, a top ministry official said Wednesday.

Speaking to a parliamentary committee, ministry director Elhanan Glat said Naftali Bennett, the minister responsible for the religion portfolio, was likely to seek government approval for such a change.

"We would like to ensure that Jews who want to pray there can do so," he told the committee as Israelis celebrated Jerusalem Day marking the "reunification" of the city after Israel occupied the eastern sector, which includes the Old City, in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Although Israeli law technically does not bar Jews from praying inside the compound, the matter is at the discretion of the police who, for reasons of public order, have never allowed Jewish prayer to take place there since 1967.

"How can we accept the fact that Jews don't have the right to pray at the place which is most sacred to them?" asked Moshe Feiglin, an MP from the radical rightwing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ruling Likud party.

Feiglin, a known extremist, was kicked out of the sprawling plaza by police in March.

"Prohibiting Jews from praying on the Temple Mount is unacceptable discrimination and an attack on the right to freedom of worship," said committee chairwoman Miri Regev.

The compound, which sits just above the Western Wall plaza, houses both the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque and is the third holiest site in Islam.

It is also venerated as Judaism's most holy place as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

According to mainstream religious leaders, Jews are forbidden from entering for fear they would profane the "Holy of Holies" the inner sanctum of the Second Temple.

MP Ibrahim Sarsur slammed the notion that Bennett would appeal to change the law.

"The eastern part of Jerusalem has been under occupation for 46 years and Israel has no right to exert sovereignty over the esplanade of the (two) mosques," he said.

But rightwing radical activist Yehuda Etzion, who was convicted in the 1980s for planning an attack on the mosques and who wants to build a third temple at the compound, told AFP it was "time to get back what is ours."

Several thousand visitors enter the site each week, including several dozen Jews who attempt to pray without getting caught, according to police figures.

Source: Ma'an News

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