Hugh Naylor
The National
April 19, 2012 - 12:00am

JERSUALEM // Egypt's top cleric visited Jerusalem yesterday, breaking decades of opposition by Muslim leaders to travelling to areas under Israeli control.

The Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa described his visit on Twitter as a show of solidarity with the Palestinians.

It was the first time an Egyptian grand mufti had visited Jerusalem since Israel captured the area in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967.

Palestinian leaders hailed the visit as an important show of support for Palestinian claims to the eastern part of the city for their future state.

"This has not happened since 1967," said Mohammed Shtayeh, a member of Fatah's central committee and an aide to the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas. "We welcome this visit."

The mufti prayed at the Al Aqsa mosque, Islam's third-holiest shrine, and presided over the opening of an Islamic research centre during his two-hour visit.

His visit follows a call by Mr Abbas in February for Muslims and Christians in the Arab world to visit the city and see the effect of Israel's occupation over the city's Palestinian areas. His plea was also a rejection of religious figures who have issued fatwas, or edicts, calling on followers not to visit the city.

Mahmoud Ghozlan, spokesman for Egypt's powerful Muslim Brotherhood, criticised the mufti's Jerusalem visit as "very strange".

Muslim religious figures have historically refused visiting the city for fear of legitimising Israel's occupation over the eastern section.

"Muslim clerics have taken a position that there is no visiting to Jerusalem with continued Israeli occupation," Mr Ghozlan said. "He violated this opinion of the majority of clerics. Why? I don't know."

Accompanying the mufti yesterday was Jordan's Prince Ghazi bin Mohammed, King Abdullah II's cousin and an adviser on religious issues, Agence France-Presse reported.


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