Neighbours criticise Israel minister visit

Israel's new national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has briefly visited Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, a site also revered by Jews, prompting fierce condemnation from the Palestinians and several Arab countries.

"The Temple Mount is open to all," Ben-Gvir said on Twitter, using the Jewish name for the site.

Video footage showed him strolling at the periphery of the compound, surrounded by a heavy security detail and flanked by a fellow Orthodox Jew.

In an apparent effort to calm anger over the visit, an official in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said the leader was fully committed to the site's decades-old status quo allowing only Muslim worship there.

When asked about the visit, a White House National Security Council spokesperson said any unilateral action that jeopardises the status quo of Jerusalem holy sites is unacceptable.

An Israeli official said the 15-minute visit by Ben-Gvir, a senior member of Netanyahu's new nationalist-religious cabinet, complied with an arrangement dating back decades that allows non-Muslims to visit on condition they do not pray.

He did not approach the mosque itself.

Although the visit at the flashpoint site passed without incident, it risks worsening frictions with Palestinians after an upsurge in violence in the occupied West Bank in the past year.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh called on Palestinians to "confront the raids into Al Aqsa mosque".

He accused Ben-Gvir of staging the visit as part of a bid to turn the shrine "into a Jewish temple".

Israel denies having such designs.

"Keeping the status quo, in recent years ministers have more than once ascended the Temple Mount, including a former minister of internal security," an official in Netanyahu's office said, "Claims of a change in the status quo are groundless."

Jordan, the custodian of Al Aqsa and whose peace deal with Israel is unpopular at home, summoned the Israeli ambassador and said the visit had violated international law and "the historic and legal status quo in Jerusalem".

Ben-Gvir once advocated ending the ban on Jewish prayer at the site but has been more non-committal on the issue since aligning with Netanyahu, now in his sixth term.

Other members of his Jewish Power party still advocate such a move.

The rise of Ben-Gvir in Netanyahu's government has deepened Palestinian anger about their long-failed efforts to secure a state.

Hours before the visit, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian teenager in a clash in nearby Bethlehem, medical officials and witnesses said, the latest in a growing death toll in the West Bank.

Israel's army said troops fired on Palestinians who threw improvised explosives, rocks and firebombs at them.

A spokesman for Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist group that rejects coexistence with Israel and which controls Gaza, said of Ben-Gvir's visit: "A continuation of this behaviour will bring all parties closer to a big clash."

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which are among the few Arab countries to have recognised Israel, also condemned the visit.

Saudi Arabia, with which Netanyahu wants to forge a peace deal, also criticised Ben-Gvir's action.

Turkey, which has recently ended a long-running diplomatic rift with Israel, condemned the visit as "provocative" as well.

The Al Aqsa compound, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, is Islam's third holiest site.

It is also Judaism's most sacred site, a vestige of two ancient temples of the faith.

On Tuesday, pious Jews fasted to commemorate a Babylonian siege on the first of those temples, in the 6th century BC.

Ben-Gvir oversees Israeli police who are formally tasked with enforcing the ban on Jewish prayer at the compound.