Israel To Lift Ban On Politicians Visiting Holy Site

Israel will lift a two-year-old ban preventing politicians visiting a Jerusalem holy site for five days later this month, following a legal challenge, the government said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu imposed the ban in October 2015, instructing police to bar ministers and lawmakers from visiting the site known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif and Jews as the Temple Mount.

The order was part of attempts to restore calm after an outbreak of violence, fuelled in part by fears among Palestinians that Israel was planning to assert further control over the compound in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

The site, which includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, is the holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest in Islam, and it is central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Jews are allowed to visit the compound but not pray there, and the site has been the scene of regular confrontation when Jews try to flout the rule.

Yehuda Glick, a lawmaker from Netanyahu’s Likud party, had in March petitioned the Supreme Court against the ban on members of parliament visiting the hilltop site.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the justice ministry said the government had decided to allow lawmakers to visit the compound for a “pilot number of days” starting on July 23.

It said the measure was the government’s preliminary response to the petition.

The government also believed the intervention of the court would be unnecessary in light of its new provision, said the ministry.

A spokesman for Glick told AFP he had no intention of withdrawing the petition, questioning the wisdom of the “strange” decision to allow the five-day visitation permit.

He said militant Palestinians would have been inclined to carry out attacks and disturb the peace over those five days to make the pilot fail, in order to prevent further visits.

“We hope that the police, government and public security minister will do whatever they need to do to prevent the terrorists from dictating to us whether or not MPs will be allowed to visit the site,” the spokesman said.

Prior to joining the Knesset, or parliament, Glick was a leading Temple Mount activist who survived an assassination attempt by a Palestinian over his campaign for Jewish prayer rights at the site.

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