JERUSALEM — Israeli military fire killed a 14-year-old Palestinian boy in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian health officials said Thursday, as an ultranationalist Israeli Cabinet minister visited a sensitive Jerusalem holy site that has been a frequent flashpoint for violence between Israel and the Palestinians.
Itamar Ben-Gvir's visit to the disputed hilltop compound comes as Israel and the Palestinians are locked in a year-and-a-half-long bout of fighting and could enflame already surging tensions. It drew condemnation from Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinians, who view such visits as provocative. The site is revered by Jews and Muslims, and the competing claims lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said 14-year-old Fares Sharhabil Abu Samra was killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank town of Qalqilya. The Israeli military said Palestinians threw rocks and firebombs at troops, who responded by firing into the air. It said the incident was being reviewed.
Ben-Gvir joined hundreds of Jews visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to mark the Jewish holiday of Tisha B'Av, a day of mourning and repentance when Jews reflect on the destruction of the First and Second Temples, key events in Jewish history.
"This is the most important place for the people of Israel, which we must return to and show our rule," Ben-Gvir said in a video released by his office, with the golden Dome of the Rock in the background.
The Palestinian Authority's Jerusalem Affairs Ministry warned that the Israeli government and extremists like Ben-Gvir would "push things toward religious war" by "provoking the feelings of Muslims all over the world." The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it considered Ben-Gvir's visit to the sacred compound as an attempt to impose Israeli sovereignty over the site.
Neighboring Jordan, which acts as a custodian over the site and has a peace agreement with Israel, said such visits, along with other Israeli steps in Jerusalem, "threaten to trigger new cycles of violence." Saudi Arabia, a country with which Israel is hoping to normalize ties, said it was "a provocation of the feelings of Muslims around the world."
Ben-Gvir, a former West Bank settler leader and far-right activist who years ago was convicted of incitement and supporting a Jewish terror group, now serves as Israel's national security minister, overseeing the country's police force.
Thursday was his third known visit to the contested site since becoming a minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right government. The site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, is the holiest site in Judaism, where the biblical First and Second Temples once stood. Today, it is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.
Police said they had arrested or detained 16 people for violating "visitation regulations" at the site. Under longstanding arrangements, Jews are permitted to visit the site but not to pray there. But in recent years, a growing number of Jewish visitors have begun to quietly pray, raising fears among Palestinians that Israel is plotting to divide or take over the site. Ben-Gvir has long called for increased Jewish access.
His visit could enflame already surging tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, who have been engaged in months of fighting that have sparked the worst violence in nearly two decades in the West Bank.
Since early last year, Israel has been staging near-nightly raids into Palestinian areas that it says are meant to stamp out militancy and thwart future attacks. More than 160 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting this year, according to a tally by The Associated Press. At least five of them, including the boy killed Thursday, were age 14 and under.
The military says most of those killed have been militants. But stone-throwing youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in the confrontations have also been killed. At least 26 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks against Israelis since the start of 2023.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, where the holy compound lies, along with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek those territories for a future independent state, with east Jerusalem as its capital. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move unrecognized by most of the international community and considers the city its undivided, permanent capital.
Netanyahu's government, consisting of ultranationalists and West Bank settlement supporters like Ben-Gvir, has intensified steps to solidify Israel's hold on territories that Palestinians seek for a future state, angering Israel's top ally, the United States, and dimming hopes for Palestinian statehood.