One of Egypt’s leading Islamic clerics has prayed at the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, despite Arab opposition to visiting Israel-controlled areas.
The Grand Mufti, Ali Gomaa, said on his Twitter account that he had made an unofficial visit to the mosque, one of the three holiest places in Islam.
Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan during the six-day war of 1967.
The visit was criticized by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, the largest party in Egypt’s parliament.
Egyptian religious and professional groups have traditionally refused to visit Israel or Israeli-controlled Palestinian areas in protest at Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem and Palestinian territories.
Spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan said the visit was “very strange”, reports the Associated Press.
“He violated the opinion of the majority of clerics. Why, I don’t know,” he said.
Mufti Ali Gomaa said he had entered Jerusalem from the West Bank via Jordan and not from the Israeli side.
Al-Aqsa mosque is in the heart of Jerusalem’s old city, alongside sites also considered amongst the holiest by Jews and Christians.
Jordan’s ministry of religious affairs said the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has called on Muslims to visit the mosque as a way of establishing a Palestinian presence in the city.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be a future capital of a Palestinian state.