JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has banned government ministers and lawmakers from visiting the Temple Mount.
The directive was first issued Wednesday night and appeared to be aimed only at Jews. Following complaints from right-wing ministers, the Prime Minister’s Office reportedly issued a clarification on Thursday that indicated the ban also applied to Arab lawmakers and ministers.
“The decision stems from the intention to cool the atmosphere around the Temple Mount,” the Israeli daily Haaretz, which first reported the ban, quoted the Prime Minister’s Office as saying on Thursday.
Following the clarification, Arab-Israeli lawmaker Jamal Zahalka attempted to visit the site and was prevented from entering. He claimed that the measure had not yet gone into effect and that he was being illegally prevented from entering.
The order Wednesday night came following a day that saw at least six Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets.
The recent wave of Palestinian violence against Israeli targets has come amid a backdrop of tensions at the Temple Mount over non-Muslim visits and what the Arab world claims is an attempt to “Judaize” the site, the location of the Jewish people’s two Holy Temples.
Last week, Zahalka verbally accosted Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount, shouting “This is not yours, get out of here, go home, you’re not wanted.”
Arab-Israeli lawmakers said they would attempt to visit the site on Friday, the Muslim Sabbath.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement that Netanyahu’s ban on lawmakers’ visits to the site, which is holy to both Muslims and Jews, “is of no value.” He added that such bans “should also be implemented against the fanatic settlers,” apparently referring to Jewish visits to the site.
Netanyahu has said that Israel will maintain the status quo on the Temple Mount, under which Jews are allowed to enter the site but are not allowed to pray. The site is administered by Jordan under the direction of the Muslim Waqf.