Occupied Jerusalem: A picture of the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, receiving a provocative photo of occupied east Jerusalem with the revered Al Aqsa mosque erased, provoked Palestinian anger on Wednesday.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s adviser for religious affairs, Mahmoud Habbash, called Friedman a “terrorist colonist” in comments published by official news agency WAFA.
The Palestinian government was unconvinced by the embassy’s explanation claiming Friedman was ‘duped’ into being in the picture, with a spokesman calling the incident an example of “reckless and racist arrogance”, according to WAFA.
In a picture published Tuesday night by ultra-Orthodox Jewish news site Kikar Hashabbat, the Al Aqsa mosque, on a flashpoint site holy to both Muslims and Jews, is replaced by a simulation of a Jewish temple.
The picture further inflamed anger amongst Palestinians, already furious over last week’s transfer of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Occupied Jerusalem after Washington recognised the disputed city as capital of Israel.
A US embassy statement said the doctored image was pushed in front of Friedman without his consent during a visit to a charitable institution in Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv.
Friedman, who is Jewish and a longstanding supporter of Jewish colonisation in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, is deeply unpopular among Palestinians.
Abbas in March labelled him a “son of a dog”.
The story of the contentious picture hit the front pages of several Palestinian newspapers on Wednesday.
The Al Aqsa mosque, part of the larger Al Haram Al Sharif compound, is a shrine for Muslims worldwide and a potent symbol of Palestinian national identity.
The second Palestinian intifada broke out in 2000 after right-wing Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the site.
Under a status quo agreement, Jews are allowed to visit Al Haram Al Sharif, but not to perform religious rituals there.
Radical Jewish groups have been campaigning to encourage more illegal raids on Al Haram Al Sharif.
Attempts by the Israeli regime to change the status quo have led to escalation of violence and tensions which claimed the lives of 210 Palestinians and 33 Israelis since last year.
Jewish groups illegally entering the premises have the full protection of Israeli occupation forces.
Palestinians of 1948 areas and residents of occupied Jerusalem have been on the front lines of defending the holy Muslim site.
But, Israel has taken draconian measures to curb their presence there including denying them medical insurance or even revoking their identity cards.
Al Haram Al Sharif, the third holiest site in Islam, was built on top of the ancient remnants of the Temple Mount, a site sacred in Judaism which destroyed in the 4th century by the Romans, during their rule.
The Al Haram Al Sharif site houses both Al Aqsa Mosque, which was originally commissioned to be built under Omar, the second Caliph in Islam in the 7th century, and the Dome of the Rock which houses the rock from which Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) ascended to heaven, according to Islamic teachings