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21:26, 23 March 2018 Friday
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Israel lifts year-long ban on lawmakers' Al-Aqsa visits
Israel lifts year-long ban on lawmakers' Al-Aqsa visits

Knesset members will now be allowed to visit East Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque complex

World Bulletin/ News Desk

Israeli lawmakers will be allowed to visit one of Jerusalem's most contentious holy sites following a ban of more than one year, Israeli police have decided.

The Israeli Prime Minister's Office announced in a statement released late Wednesday that the decision was made based on the improved security situation at East Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque complex, Islam's third-holiest site.

After a first trial visit next Tuesday, the Israeli authorities will decide on whether or not to continue allowing regular visits to the site by members of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament). Ruling party politician Yehuda Glick, who has called for building a Jewish temple in the Al-Aqsa complex (which Jews refer to as the “Temple Mount”), has actively pressured the government to allow visits to resume.

Glick’s repeated visits to the site -- and the stance of other right-wing Israeli politicians on the issue -- has been a source of tension with Palestinian Muslims.

The visit ban, which had applied to both Jewish and Muslim Knesset members, was first imposed last year amid a months-long spate of violence that left at least 200 Palestinians and 40 Israelis dead.

Violence first erupted after the Israeli authorities closed the holy site to Muslim men under 50 during a period of Jewish holidays in September 2015. At the time, Palestinians had accused Israel of attempting to alter the site’s historical system of prayer and visiting rights, referred to as the “status quo”.

The Waqf, the Jordan-run authority in charge of the mosque, had accused hardline Jewish visitors of regularly “storming” the Al-Aqsa complex after the Israeli authorities unilaterally resumed visits to the site following the eruption of the Second Intifada (Palestinian uprising) in 2000.

Plans to resume the controversial visits were put on hold last month following two weeks of protests by Palestinians, who again accused Israel of altering the “status quo” when metal detectors were installed at the mosque compound’s entrances.

The metal detectors had been installed in the wake of a deadly shootout at the site in which two Israeli police officers were killed, along with three Israeli-Arab attackers.

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