Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi, second from left, being presented with a mosaic plaque depicting Al Aqsa mosque and with a copy of the Quran during his visit to the holy compound in Arab east Jerusalem. (AFP / Ahmad GHARABLI)
Oman's Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi made a rare visit by such a senior Arab dignitary to Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque on Thursday and said the establishment of a Palestinian state was necessary to achieve stability and development in the region.
Bin Alawi's visit to pray at the third holiest site in the Islamic world was confirmed by Sheikh Azzam Al Khatib, director of the Islamic Waqf in Jerusalem which is responsible for running the site inside Jerusalem's walled Old City.
Arab officials visit to pray at Al Aqsa occasionally, but the appearance by a country's top diplomat is comparatively rare, and will be interpreted as a signal of support for the Palestinian claim to East Jerusalem after the United States recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December.
Bin Alawi made the stop at Al Aqsa while visiting the West Bank, occupied by Israel but under the control of the Palestinian Authority.
Last week two officials from Qatar and Kuwait visited the mosque, which was built in the 8th century. Another Kuwaiti minister visited in September last year.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has long urged Muslims to visit Al Aqsa out of solidarity with the Palestinians.
Speaking in Ramallah after meeting with Abbas, bin Alawi said: "We have to encourage Arabs everywhere to come to Palestine because, as I said, hearing is not the same as seeing. What is needed now is for them to see the Palestinians."
"It is not possible to achieve what the world wants - stability and development and building a culture of tolerance - except by the establishment of the Palestinian State," he said.