OCCUPIED JERUSALEM - A visit by Egypt's Mufti Ali Gomaa to Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem) has sparked fury in the Middle East, amid calls for the top religious scholar to resign.
"What happened isn't strange among figures from the old regime," said Khaled Saeed, spokesman of the Salafi Front youth group, referring to Gomaa, who was appointed by deposed president Hosni Mubarak, Al-Ahram newspaper reported.
"We will work on discharging him (Gomaa) especially through Salafi members of parliament."
Gomaa visited Al-Quds on Wednesday and prayed in Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest shrine.
He was accompanied by Jordan's Prince Ghazi bin Mohammed, King Abdullah II's cousin and advisor on religious issues.
The two men also visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Greek Orthodox patriarchate during the visit.
Gomaa argued that his visit was "unofficial" and he entered the holy city through Jordan and the West Bank, not from the Israeli side.
Jordan's ministry of Awqaf and Islamic affairs said the visit was in accordance with a command from Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him).
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas had "called on Muslims everywhere to visit Al-Aqsa and revitalize it by filling it with worshippers and pilgrims," it was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
"This trip ... is seen as an effort to encourage Muslims who are able to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam's three holiest sites, and Islam's first Qiblah (direction of prayer)."
Last month, prominent Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi discouraged Muslims against visiting Al-Quds while it is still under Israeli occupation.
"Such visits might also give legitimacy to the occupation and could be seen as normalization," Qaradawi said.
The Egyptian Mufti's visit has also lured criticism in Jordan and the Gaza Strip.
"In line with Islamic edicts issued by respected clerics and consultations with Christian religious leaders, we consider these trips as acts of normalization that serves the schemes of the enemy," said Hamzeh Mansur, chief of the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, on the party's website.
"Mosque preachers, thinkers, intellectuals and journalists should intensify their efforts to warn the public against the dangerous risks behind such visits, which must not continue," added Mansur, who also heads an anti-normalisation committee.
The ruling Hamas group in Gaza also criticized the visit.
"This visit is a sign of normalization with Israel," spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP.
"Israel will exploit this visit to legalize the occupation" of the Palestinian territories."
Al-Quds is home to Al-Haram Al-Sharif, which includes Islam's third holiest shrine Al-Aqsa Mosque, and represents the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Israel occupied the holy city in the 1967 war and later annexed it in a move not recognized by the international community or UN resolutions.Since then, Israel has adopted a series of oppressive measures to force the Palestinians out of the city, including systematic demolition of their homes and building settlements.