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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Oman's foreign minister prays at Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem

Yusuf Abdulla bin Alawi's visit to holy site followed talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah

Omani minister for foreign affairs Yusuf bin Alawi visits the Al Aqsa mosque compound East Jerusalem on February 15, 2018. Ahmad Gharabali / AFP
Omani minister for foreign affairs Yusuf bin Alawi visits the Al Aqsa mosque compound East Jerusalem on February 15, 2018. Ahmad Gharabali / AFP

Oman's Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Abdulla Alawi made a rare visit by such a senior Arab dignitary to Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque on Thursday and said the establishment of a Palestinian state was necessary to achieve stability and development in the region.

Mr Bin Alawi's visit to pray at the third holiest site in the Islamic world was confirmed by Sheikh Azzam Al Khatib, director of the Islamic Waqf in Jerusalem which is responsible for running the site inside Jerusalem's walled Old City.

Arab officials visit to pray at Al Aqsa occasionally, but the appearance by a country's top diplomat is comparatively rare, and will be interpreted as a signal of support for the Palestinian claim to East Jerusalem after the United States recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December.

Mr Bin Alawi made the stop at Al Aqsa while visiting the West Bank, occupied by Israel but partly under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Israeli officials declined to comment on whether they were aware in advance of his stop in Jerusalem. To enter the West Bank he would have had to pass through an Israeli checkpoint.

Last week two officials from Qatar and Kuwait visited the mosque, which was built in the 8th century. Another Kuwaiti minister visited in September last year.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has long urged Muslims to visit Al Aqsa to show solidarity with the Palestinians.

Speaking in Ramallah after meeting Mr Abbas, Mr bin Alawi, whose country is a US ally, said: "We have to encourage Arabs everywhere to come to Palestine because, as I said, hearing is not the same as seeing. What is needed now is for them to see the Palestinians."

"It is not possible to achieve what the world wants - stability and development and building a culture of tolerance - except by the establishment of the Palestinian state," he said.

Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move not recognised internationally.

Israel’s government regards all of Jerusalem as the capital of the country. Palestinians feel equally strongly that East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

The US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital broke with decades of US policy and drew widespread criticism from America’s allies, and across the Arab and Muslim world.

The director of the mosque, Omar Al Kiswani, told Reuters the Omani minister's visit was "important, especially after Trump's decision, to support the steadfastness of the Palestinian people and to prove to the world that Arabs and Muslims stand with the Palestinians in the face of this decision."

Mr Bin Alawi also visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

His visit to Al Aqsa made front-page headlines in Palestinian dailies on Friday, the Palestinian Authority's Wafa news agency reported.