Jerusalem: An Omani minister made a rare visit by an Arab official to a Jerusalem holy site on Thursday after holding talks with Palestinian leaders in the occupied West Bank.
Yusuf bin Alawi, minister in charge of foreign affairs, visited the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, an AFP journalist reported.
His visit comes in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on December 6, a move that angered the Muslim world.
Such a visit would usually require coordination with Israeli officials. An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman said he was unaware of the visit and could not immediately comment.
Oman and Israel do not have official diplomatic relations, as is the case with most of the Arab world.
The Al-Aqsa mosque compound is the third-holiest site for Muslims and the scene of regular tensions between Palestinians and Israeli authorities.
It is on the hill that Jews refer to as the Temple Mount, the most sacred place in Judaism as the site of the first and second Jewish temples in the biblical era.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken repeatedly of improving ties with Arab nations in recent months, but there was no sign of a link to the minister’s visit.
Bin Alawi visited the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque at the compound and said “it is a duty of Arabs to visit the mosque if they can”.
Jerusalem’s status is perhaps the most sensitive in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel occupied east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community. It sees the entire city as its capital.
The Palestinians want Jerusalem’s eastern sector as the capital of their future state.
Bin Alawi met Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah earlier in the day.
After the Al-Aqsa compound, Bin Alawi also visited the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built at the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.
Story first published: 15th February 2018