A half-brother of King Abdullah II of Jordan visited Jerusalem’s Al-Aksa Mosque on Wednesday, but the visitor was a different royal than widely reported, a spokesman for the Hashemite dynasty said.
Muin Khoury, director of media and research for Jordan’s royal family, told The Jerusalem Post that Wednesday’s visitor had not been the 36-year-old Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, but 30-year-old Prince Hashim, who is eighth in line for the throne.
Israeli Foreign Ministry sources confirmed that a Jordanian royal had visited the mosque, but declined to specify which. They said the visit did not constitute a formal visit and that no meetings had been set up with Israeli officials.
Hashim is the younger of the two sons of the late King Hussein and his last wife, the American-born Queen Noor. A graduate of Georgetown University in Washington, the prince is married to a member of the Saudi royal family and has three daughters.
Initial reports had suggested Wednesday’s visitor was Crown Prince Hussein – Abdullah’s 17- year-old designated heir – while later reports pointed to Ali, a brigadier in the Jordanian army and vice president for Asia of the world soccer-governing body FIFA.
Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites are in the custody of the Jordanian Wakf – the Islamic religious trusteeship – a holdover from Jordan’s occupation of east Jerusalem and the West Bank between 1948 and 1967.
On Wednesday, Azzam al-Khatib, the Wakf director-general, confirmed in an interview with Nazareth-based radio station AShams that a Jordanian royal had visited the mosque on the Temple Mount accompanied by an Islamic cleric. Khatib said the visit had been “religiously motivated” and apolitical.
Still, Khatib added, “the Jordanian royal family continues to watch everything happening in Jerusalem closely, particularly in reference to Al-Aksa Mosque.”
Hashim ascended to the mosque via the Mugrabi Bridge, an elevated wooden walkway connecting the Western Wall Plaza with the Temple Mount. The bridge – erected in 2007 as a temporary walkway – has been a source of conflict between Israeli and Wakf authorities over which has the right to conduct repairs to the structure, which city engineers have deemed unsafe.
Hashim’s half-brother Abdullah rarely visits Israel. The monarch last visited the country in 2004, making a secret trip to then-prime minister Ariel Sharon’s Negev ranch to air concerns that the West Bank security barrier could lead to a mass flight of Palestinians into his kingdom.
Abdullah also rarely ventures into the Palestinian Authority.
In November, he paid a brief visit to Ramallah ahead of unity talks between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah. It was his first visit to the PA in 11 years.Khaled Abu Toameh and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.