Israel MPs in heated debate on prayers at Jerusalem site

AFP , Monday 4 Nov 2013

Arab MPs were eventually ejected from Knesset internal affair's committee meeting after rejecting proposal to allow Jews into Al-Aqsa mosque precincts

A general view shows Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the opening of the winter session of the Knesset, in Jerusalem, 14 October, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

An Israeli parliamentary committee held a heated debate Monday on whether to begin allowing Jews to pray on what they call the Temple Mount, the compound housing Al-Aqsa mosque.

But there was no outcome to the Knesset internal affairs committee's hearing, which was repeatedly disrupted by Arab MPs who were eventually ejected from the room.

Deputy religious affairs minister Eli Ben-Dahan of far-right Jewish Home party said his ministry was seeking legal ways to enable Jews to pray at the site, which is in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem but administered by Muslim religious authorities.

Ben-Dahan, himself a rabbi, said they had approached the chief rabbinate, which is opposed to Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, but had not yet received an answer.

He stressed that "if anyone expects me to go contrary to the stance of the chief rabbis of Israel -- that won't happen."

Arab MPs warned that enabling Jewish prayer on the compound would spark "a third intifada," or Palestinian uprising.

Committee chairman Miri Regev of the right-wing Likud ruling party argued that Jews should be allowed freedom of religion to pray wherever they choose.

"We cannot have a situation in which a state cannot realise its sovereignty and people can't pray at sites holy to them," she said.

Regev stressed that "we don't want to go into Al Aqsa or prevent you (Muslims) from praying there, but want to enable Jews to pray on the compound as well."

She called threats of a third intifada "irresponsible."

Regev noted that officials were discussing the topic in a committee closed to the public due to its sensitive nature.

The compound, which once housed the Jewish temples, is the holiest site to Jews and the third holiest in Islam. Clashes frequently break out there between Palestinian worshippers and Israeli forces.

Jews now pray at the Western Wall plaza below it.

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