Israel's new government "will not give in to threats from Hamas," National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said as he arrived at the Temple Mount on Tuesday morning for his planned pilgrimage to the Jerusalem holy site.
"The Temple Mount is the most important place for the Jewish people," the minister said in a statement made following his visit to the religious site. "We [will] maintain freedom of movement for Muslims and Christians," Ben-Gvir stressed, adding that "Jews will climb the mountain."
"Those who make threats will be dealt with an iron fist," the minister further warned. Ben-Gvir was wearing a bulletproof visit during his visit to the Temple Mount, KAN news reported.
Opposition head and former prime minister Yair Lapid had previously warned that such a visit by Ben-Gvir would spark tensions in Jerusalem and the West Bank, saying that “as weak as Bibi is, he must this time stand up and tell [Ben-Gvir] not to visit the Temple Mount, since people will die,” Lapid said.
On Sunday, Ben-Gvir said he would visit the contentious site in the near future.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Ben-Gvir on Monday to discuss Ben-Gvir's intention to visit the site. The Likud confirmed that, following consultations with security establishment officials, Netanyahu did not object to Ben-Gvir's pilgrimage.
This is Ben-Gvir's first trip to the Temple Mount since the November election.
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef condemned Ben-Gvir's visit to the Temple Mount, writing in a letter to the minister: "I heard with sorrow your decision to go up to the Temple Mount, today is the fast day of the Tenth of Tevet, and my position as part of my position as chief rabbi of Israel...I feel the need to warn of the severity of the prohibition to visit the Temple Mount and ask you in the name of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel to avoid visiting the Temple Mount in the future, in order not to mislead the public and especially today as you have been appointed as a minister in the State of Israel and the stumbling block that could come from this due to your influence on the public is very big."
The chief rabbi pointed to a prohibition that the rabbinate holds by that prohibits visiting any part of the Temple Mount due to uncertainty about the exact boundaries of the site.
Palestinians warn of violence following Ben-Gvir trip
Palestinian Authority (PA) officials warned the national security minister on Monday that such a trip to Temple Mount would lead to an escalation of violence in the area.“The repeated Israeli threats to change the historical status quo in the Aqsa Mosque would have serious consequences for everyone,” PA presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh said. He reiterated the Palestinians’ opposition to allowing Jews to pray at the site.
On Tuesday morning, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry “strongly condemns the storming of Al-Aqsa mosque by the extremist minister Ben-Gvir and views it as an unprecedented provocation and a dangerous escalation of the conflict."
Jordan said on Tuesday it condemned in "severest" terms a visit by Ben-Gvir to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem.
"Jordan condemns in the severest of terms the storming of the Aqsa mosque and violating its sanctity," said a statement by the foreign ministry.
The compound is Islam's third holiest site after Mecca and Medina and Judaism's most sacred site, a vestige of two ancient temples of the faith.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh cast a visit by a far-right Israeli official to a contested Jerusalem holy site on Tuesday as a bid to turn a major mosque there "into a Jewish temple".
Addressing his cabinet, Shtayyeh also called on Palestinians to "confront the raids into Al Aqsa mosque." Ben-Gvir did not approach the mosque.
La France en Israel took to their Twitter to condemn Ben-Gvir and his Temple Mount visit.
צרפת מזכירה את זיקתה המוחלטת לשימור הסטטוס קוו במקומות הקדושים בירושלים. כל פעולה שמטרתה הטלת ספק בו כרוכה בסכנת הסלמה ויש להימנע ממנה. https://t.co/B7x4WK0Fth— La France en Israël (@franceenisrael) January 3, 2023
"France recalls its absolute attachment to the preservation of the status quo on the Holy Places of Jerusalem," they wrote. "Any gesture aimed at questioning it carries a risk of escalation and must be avoided."
Khaled Abu Toameh and Reuters contributed to this report.