Israel’s prime minister has no plans to change rules at sacred Jerusalem site

Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett is not changing the norms at a contested site in Jerusalem to allow Jewish prayer there, his office said, following comments that sparked angry reactions a day earlier.

Mr Bennett, Israel’s new premier, had raised concerns on Sunday when he said Israel was committed to protecting “freedom of worship” for Jews at the hilltop compound.

Under a long-standing practice, Jews are allowed to visit, but not pray, at the site, which they revere as the Temple Mount and which Muslims hold sacred as the home of the Al Aqsa Mosque.

Palestinians and the site’s Islamic authorities fear that Israel is slowly trying to take control of the area and have complained in the past that Jews continued to pray at the site.

Friction remains high there after unrest helped spark the 11-day Israel-Hamas war in May.

Despite Mr Bennett’s phrasing, the status quo holds, according to an official in the prime minister’s office.

The clarification came after a tense day in which hundreds of Jewish pilgrims visited the compound under heavy police guard to mark Tisha B’Av, a day of mourning and repentance when Jews reflect on the destruction of the First and Second Temples.

The hilltop compound, they believe, is where the biblical Temples once stood and is the holiest site in Judaism.

Muslims revere the site as the Noble Sanctuary, home to the Al Aqsa Mosque and the third-holiest site in Islam.

Earlier Sunday, Muslim worshippers briefly clashed with Israeli security forces at the flashpoint shrine.

No injuries were reported, but the incident again raised tensions.

It came just days before Muslims celebrate the festival of Eid al-Adha, or Feast of the Sacrifice.

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Categories: Al Aqsa, Jerusalem, Naftali Bennett, News, Temple Mount

Danish cartoonist whose work sparked anger in Muslim world dies aged 86

Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, whose image of the Prophet Mohammed was at the centre of widespread anti-Danish anger in the Muslim world in the mid-2000s, has died aged 86.

Mr Westergaard’s family announced his death to Danish media late on Sunday and told the newspaper Berlingske that Mr Westergaard died in his sleep after a long period of illness.

Danish media reported that he died on July 14, a day after his birthday.

From the early 1980s, Mr Westergaard worked as a cartoonist for Jyllands-Posten, one of Denmark’s leading newspapers, and was associated with the daily until he turned 75.

Mr Westergaard became known worldwide in 2005 for his controversial depiction of the Prophet Mohammed in Jyllands-Posten, which published 12 editorial cartoons of the principal figure of Islam.

Muslims consider images of the prophet to be sacrilegious and encouraging idolatry.

The images, particularly Mr Westergaard’s, sparked a huge wave of anger in the Muslim world and escalated into violent anti-Denmark protests by Muslims worldwide in 2006.

Several newspapers in neighbouring Norway also published the controversial cartoons.

Danish and Norwegian embassies in Syria were burned down by angry crowds during the demonstrations.

Political observers in the Nordic countries have described the cartoon incident as one of the most severe foreign policy crises for both Denmark and Norway in their recent histories.

In the aftermath of the uproar, Mr Westergaard received several death threats and was forced to have police protection.

In 2008, three people were arrested for planning to kill him, and in 2010 a 28-year-old Somali man broke into his home with an axe and knife.

The man was later sentenced to 10 years in prison.

“I would like to be remembered as the one who struck a blow for the freedom of expression.

“But there’s no doubt that there are some who will instead remember me as a Satan who insulted the religion of over one billion people,” Mr Westergaard said, according to Berlingske.

Jyllands-Posten said in an editorial published on Monday that with the death of Mr Westergaard “it is more important than ever to emphasise that the struggle for freedom of expression, which became his destiny, is the struggle of all of us for freedom”.

Mr Westergaard is survived by his wife and five children, 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Funeral arrangements were not immediately known.

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Categories: Danish cartoons, death, Muhammad, News, Norway, Westergaard