Chile president apologizes for visiting Temple Mount with PA officials

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera apologized Wednesday to President Reuven Rivlin for visiting the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City accompanied by Palestinian officials, Rivlin’s office said.

Pinera’s visit to the site on Tuesday was protested by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which said the presence of Palestinian officials undermined Israel’s sovereignty over the eastern part of Jerusalem.

According to the Foreign Ministry, the two countries had agreed beforehand that Pinera would not be accompanied by any Palestinian officials.

An official source in the Chilean delegation said the visit was a “private” one, in which “formally, only the delegation from Chile participated.”

The Temple Mount is in East Jerusalem, which Israel says is part of its undivided capital and which the Palestinians claim as part of their future state. Israel’s sovereignty over the eastern half of the city is not recognized internationally.

In public remarks ahead of his meeting with Pinera, Rivlin did not refer to the Chilean president’s visit to the Temple Mount but stressed Israel’s connection to Jerusalem.

“Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people since the days of King David,” Rivlin said. “Our historical connection to Jerusalem, and our sovereignty in Jerusalem, make us responsible for preserving Jerusalem as a city of faith and peace.”

He also commented on Pinera’s upcoming meeting in the the West Bank with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“Peace is the aspiration of the people of Israel. The gaps between us and the Palestinians are great, but we must begin with small steps of cooperation, and not to boycott or refuse plans that will improve our economic and social situation. That is the only way,” the president said.

Pinera arrived on Tuesday for an official three-day official visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

He visited the Temple Mount Tuesday with Palestinian Authority Jerusalem Affairs Minister Fadi al-Hadami and other senior officials, according to Hebrew-language media.

The Chilean leader and his wife also visited the Western Wall holy site, where he offered a prayers for peace, and placed prayers in the wall from students at a Chilean Jewish school.

AFP contributed to this report.

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