Lord Tariq Ahmad, the Minister of Middle East Affairs at the British Foreign Ministry, ascended to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Thursday and prayed at the Aqsa Mosque, declaring support for the “Jordanian custodianship.” The Temple Mount is Judaism’s holiest site. In meetings with Palestinian officials, he decried Israel’s “occupation” of “Palestine”.
The British diplomat was accompanied by several senior Waqf officials. No Israelis were asked to accompany him on his visit to Judaism’s holiest site.
Ahmad tweeted, “An honour & privilege to spend time at the holy Al Aqsa Mosque this morning with the Director of Jerusalem Waqf Department Sheikh Azzam Al Khatib. I emphasised the UK’s unwavering support for Jordanian Custodianship of Jerusalem’s Holy Sites & for the Status Quo.”
His entrance into the Temple Mount compound was delayed by about half an hour as the police made security arrangements. The UK government does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty on East Jerusalem, so official visits are not coordinated ahead of time through the Israeli authorities. The British ministry had made arrangements through the Waqf which notified the Israeli police.
Ahmad was also hosted at the Kotel by the Rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz.
“We discussed the importance of Jerusalem to Judaism,” Ahmad tweeted. “Its central place for all Abrahamic faiths & the important role of faith in people’s lives & in building a pathway towards sustainable peace.
The British Minister toured eastern sections of Jerusalem with Daniel Seidemann, the founder of Terrestrial Jerusalem, an NGO that claims to advocate for a policy towards Jerusalem that is consistent with a two-state solution, but that has been criticized for its “one-sided approach to the conflict” by NGO Monitorl”.
Ahmad also toured the Christian holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem “to better understand the history and insights of the Christian presence in the City,” he tweeted. “The beautiful Christian Churches and holy sites are poignant reminders of the pivotal role of Jerusalem for Christians across the world.”
The British minister arrived in the region on Wednesday. This was his first visit since taking up his position.
Ahead of his visit, Lord Ahmad said, “My visit comes at a difficult but important time for the Palestinian people, and I want to re-emphasise UK support to the Palestinian people and our unwavering commitment to a negotiated two-state solution as the only means of ending this conflict.”
On Wednesday, Ahmad met with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki in Ramallah, tweeting, “I stressed our commitment to the Palestinian people & the bilateral relationship, & emphasised our concern at recent violence in the OPTs [Occupied Palestinian Territories] that fuels instability.”
Malki has been vocal in rejecting the possibility of a negotiated two-state solution.
Ahmad, the Baron of Wimbledon, was born in Lambeth, England to immigrant parents from Pakistan. He is a part of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.