Jerusalem’s most senior Muslim cleric has said there was never any Jewish temple on Temple Mount, insisting instead that it has been the site of a mosque “since the world’s creation”.
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein made the comments to Israel’s Channel 2 TV, after violence flared following tension at the Al-Asqa Mosque in September. Islam’s third holiest site is located on Temple Mount, known as Haram al-Sharif in Arabic, and dates from the 8th century.
“This is the Al-Aqsa Mosque that Adam or during his time, the angels built,” said Hussein, who was appointed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Last week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provoked outrage by saying the pre-war Mufti of Jerusalem travelled to Berlin to encourage Hitler to “burn Jews”.
His comments were slammed as “incitement” by Ayman Odeh, the most senior Arab politician in the Knesset, given that the recent wave of violence has been more religious than nationalist in nature.
Over 60 people have now died after Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel stabbed, shot and rammed their cars into Israeli security personnel and civilians, with several of the worst incidents in and around Jerusalem’s Old City.
Most analysts trace the start of the trouble to riots on Temple Mount, where right-wing religious Jews, led by ultra-nationalist Israeli ministers, have been visiting in increasing numbers, and where armed Israeli forces have been filmed storming the mosque in response to Palestinian aggression.
The site, which is considered holy to both Jews and Muslims, is administered by Jordan, where Israeli ally King Abdullah II took grave exception to Israeli actions. In Jerusalem, ministers have insisted that there are no plans to alter the status quo, which dictates that Jews can visit but not pray, but Israeli analysts say that for Jewish settlers, Temple Mount represents “the new battleground”.
This week, Israel and Jordan agreed to place CCTV cameras on the site, in a bid to calm tensions and monitor possible violations of the status quo. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called it “an excellent suggestion” but Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said it was “a new trap” to arrest Muslim worshippers it believes guilty of “incitement”.