CAIRO (Reuters) - The grand mufti, one of Egypt’s highest religious authorities, said he had visited Jerusalem on Wednesday for the first time, angering Islamist groups opposed to any step that might be viewed as recognizing Israeli control of the city.
Mufti Ali Gomaa said on his Twitter account that he had visited Jerusalem, entering from the West Bank via Jordan and not from the Israeli side. He said he prayed in the al-Aqsa mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, in the walled old city.
East Jerusalem was captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 war. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as a future capital of a Palestinian state. Israel describes Jerusalem as its eternal undivided capital.
Egyptian religious officials, including members of Egypt’s Coptic Christian church, have for decades refused to travel to Jerusalem in protest at the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem and the Palestinian areas.
On Twitter, Gomaa said it was an “unofficial visit” to the mosque. The mufti’s spokesman told the state-owned Al-Ahram’s website that the trip which was his first did not indicate “any recognition of the Zionist entity” - a reference to Israel.
Politicians from ultra-conservative Salafi groups criticized the visit and some said he should be sacked.
“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 Hosni Mubarak, the ousted president who upheld Egypt’s peace deal with Israel.
“We will work on discharging him (Gomaa) especially through Salafi members of parliament,” Saeed said in comments also carried by Al-Ahram. Salfis control about a quarter of seats in the lower house of parliament.
The deputy speaker of the lower house, Ashraf Thabet, who is also a Salafi, said the chamber would debate the issue to determine why Gomaa visited the city, Al-Ahram also reported.
Reporting by Tamim Elyan and Dina Zayed; Writing by Edmund Blair; editing by Ron Askew