Arab MP visits Jerusalem's Aqsa despite Netanyahu ban

An Arab Israeli lawmaker said he entered Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound on Wednesday despite a ban on visits by members of parliament to the site.

Jerusalem: An Arab Israeli lawmaker said he entered Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound on Wednesday despite a ban on visits by members of parliament to the site at the heart of a wave of deadly violence.

Basel Ghattas, a Christian member of the Israeli parliament for the Arab Joint List coalition, said on his Facebook page that he visited the site to send a message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"This morning I entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque in spite of Netanyahu," Ghattas said.

"Israel does not control who is banned from entering the mosque, and continues to change the status quo."

Ghattas posted photos and a video appearing to show him on Wednesday in and around the mosque complex, which is the third-holiest site in Islam and the most sacred for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount.

Netanyahu banned all members of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, and ministers from entering the compound earlier this month in a bid to ease tensions that have seen nine Israelis killed by Palestinians in three weeks of knife attacks and shootings.

The ban appeared mainly to target Jewish members of government whose visits to the site are seen as provocation by Palestinians.

Fifty-nine Palestinians and one Arab Israeli have also been killed.

Some of them were shot dead by Israeli police while carrying out attacks, but others have been killed by security forces while taking part in protests.

Muslims accuse Israel of seeking to change rules governing the site and to allow Jews to pray there.

Only Muslims are allowed to pray within the compound, while non-Muslims can visit but not pray there.

Netanyahu has repeatedly denied plans to change the status quo.

Gilad Erdan, Israel's minister of internal security, slammed Ghattas's visit in a message on his Twitter account.

"The vile provocation of the deputy Basel Ghattas only highlights his inadequacy as a representative of the public. His initiative could incite violence and lead to death," he wrote.

The visit is only the latest in a series of events straining efforts to douse tensions over Al-Aqsa.

On Tuesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely stoked Palestinian fears by saying it was her "dream to see the Israeli flag flying" over the holy site in annexed east Jerusalem.

Netanyahu's office reacted swiftly with a statement recalling his promise to maintain the status quo and ordering members of his government to "act accordingly."

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