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Israel's Ethics Commitee upholds ban on Knesset members visiting Al-Aqsa Mosque

June 14, 2016 7:17 P.M. (Updated: June 21, 2016 10:40 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The Ethics Committee of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, decided to uphold a provision Tuesday prohibiting members of the Knesset (MK), both Jewish and Palestinian, from entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, according to a press release from the Israeli Knesset.

The measure was implemented in November by the Ethics Committee amid a wave of political unrest that erupted across the occupied Palestinian territory in October, so far leaving more than 200 Palestinians and some 30 Israelis killed.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound was a central flashpoint for the political upheaval that broke out in past months, with Palestinians fearing Israel intended to violate longstanding international agreements to prohibit Jewish worship at the site, as rumors circulated that a draft bill to partition the Al-Aqsa Mosque between Muslims and Jews would be voted on in the Israeli Knesset.

Following a recommendation by Israeli police officials, the committee concluded at the time that visitations to Al-Aqsa by Israeli political officials would “significantly deteriorate the security situation.”

The committee added that the provision would remain active “until further notice” and any violations by MKs would be considered an “ethics violation,” punishable by “sanctions.”

At the Knesset meeting on Tuesday, an Israeli police official said the decision to prohibit MKs from entering the compound remained unchanged from previous discussions.

However, the official added that Israeli police would consider allowing Palestinians MKs to visit Al-Aqsa towards the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and permitting Jewish MKs to visit the site following Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr -- the Muslim holiday that marks the conclusion of Ramadan.

The Ethics Committee also stated that the prohibition would be overturned if Israeli security forces deemed the political environment calm enough to allow MKs to visit the holy site without risks of inciting conflict.

The third holiest site in Islam, the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is also venerated as Judaism's most holy place as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood.

Following Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has maintained an agreement with the Waqf (Islamic Endowment) not to allow non-Muslim prayer in the area.

Jewish prayer is allowed at the neighboring Western Wall, which is the last remnant of the Second Temple.

However, Israeli forces regularly escort Jewish visitors to Al-Aqsa, leading to anger among Muslim worshipers.

Hundreds of Israeli extremists toured the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound earlier this month celebrating the 49th anniversary of the occupation of the Palestinian territory, three of which were evacuated while two Palestinian women were detained.

Thousands of Israelis marched through the Muslim Quarter in occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City to commemorate the day, shouting anti-Palestinian chants, harassing Palestinian shop owners, and waving Israeli flags.

In May, days before being sworn in as the newest member of the Knesset, Israel's ultraright Yehuda Glick entered the Al-Aqsa compound with a group of right-wing Israelis, escorted by Israeli forces.

The now MK has commonly stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound with ultra-nationalist Israelis to perform rituals and prayers at the site in order to challenge the status quo prohibiting Jewish worship in the compound.
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