Jewish Pilgrims Ascend Temple Mount Amid Fears of Escalation of Violence in Gaza

Israeli police approved the Sunday pilgrimage marking the Tisha B'Av holiday, sparking fears of confrontations in Jerusalem and the West Bank

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Religious Jewish visitors at the Temple Mount, Jerusalem, in May.
Religious Jewish visitors at the Temple Mount, Jerusalem, in May.Credit: Sinan Abu Maizer / Reuters

Large groups of religious Jews ascended to the Temple Mount on Sunday morning as part of the religious holiday of Tisha B'Av, raising fears that a conflagration in Jerusalem could cause the Gaza conflict to spiral beyond the Strip.

Israeli police have said they will allow far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir to access the Temple Mount complex. The lawmaker hailing from the Religious Zionism party, known for his provocations and incitement at similar events in the past, coordinated his visit ahead of time with the police: "We cannot surrender to Islamic Jihad – we are the landlords in Israel. The more we feel and act this way, the enemies will get the message."

The Temple Mount is known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, and has become both a flash-point and acid test for broader tensions between Israel and the Palestinians.

The police held a situation assessment on Saturday evening amid Israel's military operation in the Gaza Strip, and large forces have been deployed in the Old City area since Saturday night. Security officials said on Saturday that the police intend to allow Jews to go up to the mount, pending another evaluation scheduled for Sunday morning.

MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, this week.

Jewish temple organizations have been running a campaign in recent days to encourage Jews to make the pilgrimage, and communicated with police in preparation to ensure all Jewish visitors can enter the site.

Tom Nissani, CEO of "Beyadenu - Returning to the Temple Mount" said the pilgrimage "is a test for the authorities in Israel" on whether they will meet the demands of the temple organizations, or maintain the religious status-quo.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz criticized the decision to allow Jews to enter the compound on Sunday, slamming Ben Gvir on Twitter for "carrying out a transparent provocation to spark a large explosion" under police auspices.

The fragile status-quo struck with Jordan, the custodian of the site, permits Jewish access to the site, but only allows Muslims to pray there. In recent years, Jewish extremists have prayed at the compound in greater numbers, and Hamas warned on Saturday of consequences for any further escalation at Al-Aqsa.

Nissani added that the upcoming pilgrimage to the Temple Mount is "expected to be the largest pilgrimage in history since the days of the Temple." Over the last week, 1,385 Jews went up to the complex. According to a statement from the headquarters of the temple organizations, this is a 65 percent increase compared to the corresponding week last year.

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