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Jerusalem: Itamar Ben Gvir declares Israel 'in charge' of Al-Aqsa during visit

Hamas slams visit by far-right minister, which comes days after ultra-nationalist march through Jerusalem
Itamar Ben Gvir, flanked by Israeli police officers, greets people gathered in front of Damascus Gate, leading to the Old City of Jerusalem, during the annual "flag march" to mark Jerusalem Day, on 18 May 2023 (AFP)

Itamar Ben Gvir, Israel's far-right national security minister, declared "we're in charge here" as he and a group of supporters entered Al-Aqsa Mosque on Sunday morning.

The visit to the site, called the Temple Mount by Jews and thought of as the holiest site in Judaism, will be seen as a provocative move by Palestinians and comes just days after thousands of Jewish ultra-nationalists marched through occupied East Jerusalem on the annual "flag march" demonstration.

"I'm happy to be ascending the Temple Mount, the most important site to the Jewish people," Ben Gvir said in a statement. "We're in charge here."

Israeli police said the trip passed without incident. According to Haaretz, Ben Gvir did not coordinate the visit with the Jordanian Waqf, the body that nominally oversees the site.

Al-Aqsa Mosque is an Islamic site where unsolicited visits, prayers and rituals by non-Muslims are forbidden, according to decades-long international agreements. 

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Israeli groups, in coordination with authorities, have long violated the delicate arrangement and facilitated raids of the site and performed prayers and religious rituals. 

Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip, strongly criticised Sunday's visit by the Israeli nationalist leader.

The group wrote on Telegram that Israel would "bear responsibility for the barbaric incursions of its ministers and herds of settlers", and said the move "confirms the depths of danger looming over Al-Aqsa, under this Zionist fascist government and the arrogance of its ministers from the extreme right".

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On Thursday, Ben Gvir and other far-right ministers and lawmakers joined the divisive "flag march" in East Jerusalem, which saw Israeli police officers and ultra-nationalists assaulting Palestinians and journalists.

Marchers threw stones at a Middle East Eye reporter and other journalists covering the gathering in the Damascus Gate area near the Old City.

At least two journalists were hit in the head and wounded.

Dozens of participants were carrying the black flag of the racist far-right Lehava group while chanting "your village will be burnt".

Elsewhere, ultra-nationalists marching through the Old City's Muslim quarter beat Palestinian residents, leading to some scuffles. Israeli police intervened by assaulting Palestinians who were already under attack.

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