Israel committed to status quo at Al-Aqsa: FM
Jerusalem, April 25 (IANS) Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said his country is "committed" to the status quo that bans Jews from praying at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in East Jerusalem, the focal point of recent clashes.
"Israel is committed to the status quo on the Temple Mount," Lapid said during a press briefing, using the Israeli name of the site which is holy to both Muslims and Jews, reports Xinhua news agency.
"Muslims pray on the Temple Mount, non-Muslims visit. There is no change," he said.
"We have no plans to divide the Temple Mount between religions."
Responding to criticism that Israeli security forces have been using excessive force against Palestinians during their clashes, Lapid accused Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, of stoking the clashes by encouraging young Palestinians to hurl stones and firecrackers at the Israeli police.
"They've done this to create a provocation, to force the Israeli police to enter the Mosque and remove them," he said.
At least 200 Palestinians have been injured in clashes with Israeli police since April 15, the day the Jewish week-long holiday of Passover began as Muslims have been observing their holy month of Ramadan.
The Palestinians accused Israel of triggering the clashes by allowing thousands of Jews to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which Jews revere as the site of their biblical-era temple that was destroyed in AD 70, to mark the holiday.
The holy site is located in East Jerusalem, a territory that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed shortly later, claiming it part of its "indivisible" capital, in a move unrecognized by most of the international community.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound has been administered by Jordan but secured by the Israeli police.
Under a long-held status quo, Jews are allowed to visit the site but not to pray there.
However, far-right extremists have begun to quietly pray at the site over the past years, while an ultra-nationalist Israeli movement, led by settler activists, calls for rebuilding the Jewish temple there.