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Britain's Prince William visits Jerusalem holy sites, great-grandmother's tomb

Reuters , Thursday 28 Jun 2018
Britain's Prince William touches the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City, June 28, 2018 (Photo: Reuters)
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Britain's Prince William on Thursday visited Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque compound and Judaism's Western Wall at the foot of the hilltop holy site at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

William is on the final day of his tour of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, the first official visit there by a senior member of the British royal family.

The prince shook hands with clerics and then entered Islam's Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque. They are on a site revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews as the Temple Mount, where Biblical temples once stood.

Minutes later and accompanied by rabbis, William walked up to the Western Wall through a passage formed across the plaza by police barricades that held back a crowd of onlookers.

Wearing a skullcap and following a Jewish tradition of offering a written prayer at the wall, he placed a note between its stones, rested the palm of one hand against them and leaned forward in silent reflection.

The Western Wall, the last remaining remnant of a retaining wall that surrounded a Biblical temple, and the Noble Sanctuary are in the walled Old City of Jerusalem, an area captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move that has not won international recognition.

The future of the city is one of the thorniest issues in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and over the years the compound above the Western Wall has been the scene of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces.

Great- Grandmother

Before visiting the site, William, second in line to the British throne, made a pilgrimage to the Jerusalem tomb of his great-grandmother, Princess Alice, who was honoured by Israel for sheltering Jews in Nazi-occupied Greece during the Holocaust.

Princess Alice of Battenberg and Greece, who was Queen Elizabeth's mother-in-law, is buried in a crypt in the Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem's Old City.

A devout Christian, she died in London in 1969 and had asked to be buried in Jerusalem, next to her aunt, who like Alice had become a nun and founded a convent.

In 1993, the princess was named as one of the "righteous among the nations", the highest honour Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial bestows on non-Jews, for hiding three members of the Cohen family in her palace in Athens during World War Two.

Both William's father, Prince Charles, and grandfather, Prince Philip, who is Alice's son, have visited her grave site near the Garden of Gethsemane, in an area Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

William met ancestors of the Cohen family at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence on Tuesday after visiting the memorial to the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.

The prince visited the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Wednesday, meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and touring a refugee camp, on a day which also took him to the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv.

In a speech in Jerusalem on Wednesday, he assured Palestinians "you have not been forgotten".

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed in 2014 and the divide between the two sides has widened in the years since amid bouts of violence. 

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