Ali Gomaa, Egypt's grand mufti, has paid a surprise visit to Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque on Wednesday, breaking with decades of opposition by Muslim leaders on traveling to areas under Israeli control.
Gomaa wrote on his Twitter account that his visit was in solidarity with the Palestinians' claim to the eastern part of the disputed city, under Israel's control since it captured the city in the 1967 Six Day War.
The mufti prayed in the Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third holiest site, during his two-hour-long visit.
Gomaa was accompanied by Jordanian Prince Ghazi bin Mohamed, president of the Al-Bayt Foundation; Sheikh Mohamed Hassan, the mufti of Jerusalem and the preacher of the Al-Aqsa Mosque; Sheikh Abdel Azim Sahlab, chairman of the Board of the Islamic Waqf of Jerusalem; and Azzam al-Khatib, director of Jerusalem's Religious Endowments (Waqf) Foundation.
Khatib said that Gomaa “came for a religious visit to Al-Aqsa mosque” along with bin Mohamed, King Abdullah II's cousin and adviser on religious issues.
Khatib added that the visit has no political connotations, describing it as a purely “religious mission.”
Gomaa called the trip an unofficial visit, clearly an attempt to diffuse criticism he is already facing for breaking an unofficial ban by Muslim clerics and most Egyptian professional and private associations on visiting Israel or Israeli-controlled Palestinian territories. The Egyptian Coptic Church and most Muslim clerics around the region generally follow the ban.
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