Trip to Jerusalem’s holiest site would be "a diplomatic catastrophe", Islamists declare.
Pope Benedict XVI (C) walking with Muslim and Christian religious leaders during a visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, May 12, 2009
Responding to unconfirmed rumors that US President Barack Obama intends to visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during his trip to Israel next month, the Hamas terror group warned the American leader against the idea on Tuesday, calling it "a diplomatic catastrophe", and local Muslim leaders set stiff conditions for a presidential tour there.
A statement issued by Hamas called Obama’s potential visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, located at the southern perimeter of the Mount, "an imminent danger which the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem have never faced."
Hamas stated that a visit by the American president to the contested site under the auspices of "the Zionist occupation" would be more dangerous than the relocation of any country’s embassy to Jerusalem, considering the international preeminence of the United States.
The Temple Mount, revered by Jews as the site of the first and second temples and by Muslims as the point from which Muhammad ascended to heaven, is administered by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, a trust that has governed the site since the 12th century.
Ekrima Sabri, who used to administer the Temple Mount as mufti of Jerusalem and currently heads the High Islamic Council in Jerusalem said that Obama would be allowed to visit the site only if he abided by three conditions.
According to a protocol drafted by the Waqf in 1967, official visitors may enter the Temple Mount through any of its 11 gates excluding the Mughrabi Gate, which is connected to the Western Wall plaza by a bridge.
"The Israeli army stole the keys to that gate from the Islamic Waqf, so entry through that gate gives the impression that Israel has sovereignty over Al-Aqsa," Sabri said.
"We insist on Muslim sovereignty over the Temple Mount," he said.
Israel took control of Jerusalem’s Old City, including the Temple Mount, in the 1967 Six Day War.
The other conditions placed by the Waqf on Obama’s visit are that no Israeli official accompany the president onto the mount, and that the visit be of a sight-seeing rather than a political nature.
Sabri said that in the past, visiting officials — including French President Jacques Chirac, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI — abided by the Waqf’s regulations.
"If Obama does not abide by these rules, we will refuse to accept him in Al-Aqsa," Sabri concluded, adding that his organization intended to send a petition to the American consul general in Jerusalem next week outlining its conditions and protesting Israeli attempts to "Judaize" Jerusalem.
The White House gave no indication that Obama actually planned to visit the Temple Mount.
A visit to the site by former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon while he was opposition leader in September 2000 is widely regarded as the immediate precursor — Israel says it was a pretext — for the outburst of the Second Intifada, marked by a strategic onslaught of Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israel, and referred to by Palestinians as the Al-Aqsa Intifada.