OCCUPIED JERUSALEM - In response to increasing visits to Al-Quds from Asian Muslim tourists, Palestinian scholars have issued a new fatwa banning visit to Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third holiest shrine, while under Israeli occupation.
Non-Palestinian Muslims should refrain from visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque while it remains captive by the state of the Jews, Dr. Maher al-Huli, head of the fatwa department in the Palestine Scholars Association (PSA) said in a statement cited by Jerusalem Post.
Refusing to visit the Aqsa Mosque while it is under occupation means rejecting Zionist sovereignty over the holy site and combating normalization with the Zionist enemy, he added.
The fatwa came in response to reports that pilgrims from some Islamic countries have recently been visiting the Temple Mount as part of tourist trips.
Muslims have kept up an informal boycott of Al-Aqsa Mosque since Israel seized Al-Quds (East Jerusalem) and the West Bank from Jordan in a 1967 war.
Muslims say that visits to the shrine would amount to recognition of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.
Yet, over the past months, Palestinian and Jordanian officials have been working to reverse this informal boycott of the holy city.
Last June, Palestinian officials have launched a plan to attract between one to two million visitors to Al-Aqsa Mosque annually.
Since then, several high-ranking Arab and Muslim leaders have turned up to pray at Al-Aqsa in an effort to kickstart a new wave of visits to the shrine.
In April, Egypt's Mufti Ali Gomaa, accompanied by a Jordanian delegation, visited Al-Quds and prayed in Al-Aqsa Mosque, sparking anger in Egypt and Hamas-ruled Gaza.
Gomaa also visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - said to be on the site of Jesus's crucifixion and burial - at the invitation of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Two weeks before that, Habib Ali Al-Jifri, an influential Sufi preacher from Yemen, had toured Al-Aqsa Mosque with Jordanian King Abdullah's brother Prince Hashem.
Yet, after Gomaa's visit, several Jordanian politicians and a Bahraini delegation made the pilgrimage to Al-Aqsa and Muslim officials said more high-level visits were expected, both from the Arab world and by Muslims from Europe and Asia.
Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine Mohammad Ahmad Husein has also issued a fatwa approving visits to Al-Aqsa Mosque.
But influential scholar Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi issued his own fatwa against foreign Muslims visiting Al-Quds.
The leading scholar said that Muslims need to be taught that Jerusalem is an Islamic city that can't be handed over to others, urging Muslims to liberate the mosque and lands from the usurpers.
He added that Muslims were entrusted by Allah with liberating and saving the mosque from the Jewish usurpers and restoring it to the glory of Muslims.
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.
Muslims enter Al-Aqsa Mosque compound from the Muslim Quarter through 10 other gates through the ancient walls, past checkpoints manned by Israeli security forces.
Visitors to the holy city would have to cross Israeli-controlled territory by entering Israel proper or taking the Allenby Bridge from Jordan into the West Bank as the recent visitors have done.
Visitors would also have to apply for a visa before the trip - something many Muslims would still refuse to do because it would imply recognition of the Jewish state.
Once they reached Al-Quds, it is not clear the visitors could always enter Al-Aqsa compound.
Muslims are normally allowed free entry, but Israeli security posts at its gates sometimes limit entry to older men, from 40 or 50 years up, if they fear protests.
During today's Friday prayer, Israel allowed only Palestinians carrying Israeli identity cards and above 50 years old to perform the Friday prayers in Al-Aqsa mosque.