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Israeli ministers ascend to Temple Mount after ban on lawmaker visits lifted

Amir Ohana and Yehuda Glick (both Likud), and Shuli Mualem-Refali (Jewish Home) visit Jerusalem's Temple Mount holy site after a ban on lawmakers' visits was lifted, July 9, 2018

Israeli ministers flocked to ascend to Jerusalem’s flashpoint Temple Mount compound on Sunday and Monday morning as restrictions prohibiting lawmakers from visiting the holy site were lifted.

Nationalist right-wing Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel of the Jewish Home party was the first minister to visit the site on Sunday, followed by MK Sharren Haskel of the ruling Likud later in the morning.

On Monday, Amir Ohana and Yehuda Glick (both of Likud), and Shuli Mualem-Refali (of Jewish Home) visited the site.

Glick, who survived an assassination attempt in 2014 over his Temple Mount activism, had reportedly issued the request which led Netanyahu to lift the prohibition on lawmakers' visits to the site after more than two years.

The hilltop compound, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif compound and to Jews as the Temple Mount, is considered Judaism's holiest site -- once the site of the first and second Temples -- and is the third holiest to the Muslim faith.

The Palestinian Authority immediately condemned the lawmakers' visits to the flashpoint holy site on Sunday, accusing the Israeli and American governments of "assaults" on Jerusalem's Islamic and Christian religious sites and demanding that Arabs and Muslims take action to stop Jews from "storming" the Temple Mount.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that every member of parliament, including ministers, would be able to resume visiting the Temple Mount on a regular basis.

The lifting of the ban came with certain conditions. Lawmakers must not visit the site more than once every three months and must their visits with police in advance. They are also prohibited from addressing public media and may not be accompanied by media during visits.

Jewish lawmakers will be permitted to visit the site during visiting hours stipulated for Jews (between 7:30-11:00 a.m. on weekdays) and may accompany Jewish tour groups. Arab lawmakers will be able to begin visits with no time restrictions from 11:30 a.m.

Ariel last week welcomed the lifting of the ban, but called for limitations to also be removed.

“The Temple Mount must be open for Jewish prayer throughout the year, including to public figures,” he said. “The Muslims are not in charge of the Mount and they can’t make use of threats and violence that place limits on [Jewish] entry to the Temple Mount. I call on the prime minister to open the Temple Mount to Jewish prayer without limitations for anyone who wants.”

The ban on visits by Israeli ministers and parliamentarians was first imposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in October 2015 as tensions at the site began escalating into a months-long wave of stabbing, car-ramming and shooting attacks, and violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces.

Plans to allow a temporary lifting of the ban in July 2017 were put off after violence again erupted in and around the site.

Israel has repeatedly stated its commitment to the status quo at the Temple Mount, in which Jews are allowed to visit but not to pray.

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