Israeli Cabinet minister Itamar Ben-Gvir sparks anger with visit to Jerusalem holy site

'Today's visit, deliberately it seems, potentially reigniting tension in Jerusalem' - ITV News Correspondent Rachel Younger reports

An ultranationalist Israeli Cabinet minister stoked tensions with Palestine by visiting a flashpoint holy site in Jerusalem.

Tuesday's visit was the first that has been made since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new far-right government took office last week.

Israel's government has been fiercely criticised from around the Muslin world for the visit, which has also been rebuked by the United States.

Mr Netanyahu attempted to play down the incident, saying it was in line with longstanding understandings at the disputed holy site.

However, the visit by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir unnerved both enemies and allies that have expressed strong misgivings about the far-right makeup of the new government.

Mr Ben-Gvir, a West Bank settler leader who has drawn inspiration from a racist rabbi, entered the site - known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary - flanked by a large contingent of police officers.

His plans to visit, announced earlier in the week, had drawn threats from Gaza's Hamas militant group. "The Israeli government won't surrender to a murderous organization, to a vile terrorist organization," Mr Ben-Gvir said in a video clip taken during the visit.

Describing the Temple Mount as "the most important place for the Jewish people", he decried what he called "racist discrimination" against Jewish visits.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.

With the Dome of the Rock in the background and waving his fingers at the camera, he said the visits would continue.

The site is the holiest location in Judaism and is home to the ancient biblical Temples. Today, it houses the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.

Since Israel captured the site in 1967, Jews have been allowed to visit but not pray there. Mr Ben-Gvir has long called for greater Jewish access to the Temple Mount.

Palestinians consider the mosque a national symbol and view such visits as provocative and as a potential precursor to Israel seizing control over the compound.

Most rabbis forbid Jews from praying on the site, but there has been a growing movement in recent years of Jews who support worship there.

The site has been the scene of frequent clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces, most recently in April last year.

Although Tuesday's visit passed without incident, US Ambassador Tom Nides said he "has been very clear in conversations with the Israeli government on the issue of preserving the status quo in Jerusalem’s holy sites".

Among the other nations to condemn the visit were the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar.