Israeli police stopped Jordan envoy from entering Al-Aqsa Mosque

The incident reflected heightened sensitivity about Al-Aqsa compound under Israel’s new ultranationalist government.

ordanian ambassador to Israel, Ghassan Majali
Jordanian ambassador to Israel, Ghassan Majali, attends an event to present his diplomatic credentials to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (not pictured) in the president's residence in Jerusalem [File: Abir Sultan/EPA]

Jordan has summoned the Israeli ambassador to protest police obstruction of the country’s envoy during his visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Jordanian foreign ministry said the Israeli envoy was handed “a strongly-worded letter of protest to be delivered immediately to his government”.

The letter included a reminder that the Jordan-run Jerusalem Waqf Department is the exclusive authority supervising holy sites in Jerusalem, including Al-Aqsa Mosque, the statement said.

“Israel, as an occupying power, must adhere to its obligations under international law and the international humanitarian law towards the occupied city of Jerusalem and its sanctities, especially the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque,” ministry spokesman Sinan Majali said.

Israel must “put a stop to attempts to change the historic status quo” in occupied Jerusalem, he added.

According to witnesses, the Jordanian ambassador Ghassan Majali was stopped by Israeli police at the Lion’s Gate (Bab al-Asbat), at the northern side of Al-Aqsa Mosque, and prevented from entering the site on claims of lack of coordination.

The site, sitting on a sprawling plateau also home to the iconic golden Dome of the Rock, is revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary (al-Haram al-Sharif) and by Jews as the Temple Mount.

The Israeli police, for its part, said that Majali arrived at the holy site “without any prior coordination with police officials”, prompting an officer at the compound entrance who did not recognise the diplomat to notify his commander about the unexpected visit. While awaiting instructions, officers held up Majali, along with Azzam al-Khatib, the director of the Jerusalem Waqf. The ambassador refused to wait and decided to leave, Israeli police said.

“Had the ambassador briefly waited a few more minutes for the officer to be updated, the group would have entered,” the police said, stressing that “coordination” with Israeli police was routine before such visits.

Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from occupied East Jerusalem, said that the incident goes to the heart of Jordan and Israel’s relationship when it comes to Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

“There is something called the status quo – an agreement effectively that allows the Jordanians to be custodians of that compound,” he said. “They say they do not need Israeli police permission to enter the site.”

‘Unusual provocation’

Footage widely shared online shows Majali, among other Muslim worshippers, at the limestone Lion’s Gate entrance to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City. An Israeli police officer blocks his path and yells at Majali in Arabic to go back, according to the video. Al-Khatib gets on the phone as the visitors argue with the officers amid the crackle of the policeman’s walkie-talkie.

Some two hours later, Jordanian state-run media reported that Majali finally entered the compound without showing any kind of permission and held talks with al-Khatib, who “briefed him about the Israeli violations in Al-Aqsa”.

Jordan has described the move as an unusual provocation, and said Jordanian officials do not need permission to enter the site because of the country’s role as the official custodian. The kingdom has also cautioned Israel against taking “any actions that would prejudice the sanctity of the holy places”.

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli foreign ministry.

Tuesday marked the second time that Jordan has summoned the Israeli ambassador to Amman since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new far-right and religiously conservative government took power. Earlier this month, Israel’s minister of national security, the ultranationalist Itamar Ben-Gvir, visited the Jerusalem holy site despite threats from Hamas and a cascade of condemnations from across the Arab world.

Jordan has been the official custodian of Muslim and Christian holy places in Jerusalem since 1924, and was publicly acclaimed as the custodian of Jerusalem’s holy sites.

For Muslims, Al-Aqsa represents the world’s third-holiest site. Jews, for their part, call the area the Temple Mount, saying it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem, where Al-Aqsa is located, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It annexed the entire city in 1980, in a move never recognised by the international community.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies