Jerusalem: Arab Israeli lawmakers have vowed to defy Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to bar parliament members from entering a sensitive Jerusalem holy site, pledging to visit it on Friday.
Netanyahu has issued the order against lawmakers and ministers in a bid to ease tensions after weeks of unrest. Arab lawmakers' planned visit on Friday, when many Muslims attend weekly prayers there, will test enforcement of the ban.
"Neither Netanyahu nor the right will be able to stop us from entering our Al-Aqsa mosque," Israeli Arab MP Ahmed Tibi said today, calling the ban "senseless and illegal".
Thirteen of Israel's 120 MPs are Arabs.
The Al-Aqsa compound has seen repeated clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian youths in recent weeks.
Provocative visits by Israeli Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel as well as by Israeli Arab lawmakers have added to the volatility.
The Al-Aqsa compound is the third-holiest site in Islam and the most sacred for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount.
Muslims fear Israel will seek to change rules governing the site, which allow Jews to visit but not pray to avoid provoking tensions. Netanyahu has said repeatedly he is committed to the status quo.
An increase in visits by Jews during a series of Jewish holidays in recent weeks has added to tensions.
The site is located in east Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.