By Qais Abu Samra
The Palestinian government on Sunday decried incursions by Israeli settlers and government ministers into East Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
In a statement, government spokesman Youssef al-Mahmoud described the incursions as “part of an Israeli scheme to inflame the region by triggering a religious war”.
He described the repeated incursions as a “hellish crime”.
On Sunday, Israeli Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel and dozens of Israeli settlers forced their way into the flashpoint compound.
For Muslims, Al-Aqsa represents the world's third holiest site. Jews, for their part, refer to the area as the "Temple Mount," claiming it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem, in which the Al-Aqsa is located, during the 1967 Middle East War. It formally annexed the entire city in 1980, claiming it as its capital in a move never recognized by the international community.
In late 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had banned government ministers and MPs from entering the Al-Aqsa compound in an effort to calm tensions that had erupted across the Israeli-occupied West Bank following repeated incursions by Jewish settlers into the site.
But in June, Netanyahu lifted the ban, allowing members of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) to visit the flashpoint site once every three months.