US ambassador ‘tricked‘ into posing with doctored photo of East Jerusalem

US ambassador ‘tricked‘ into posing with doctored photo of East Jerusalem © France 24 screen grab

The US embassy in Israel has said ambassador David Friedman was duped into being pictured receiving a provocative photo of annexed east Jerusalem with the revered Al-Aqsa mosque erased, an episode that provoked Palestinian anger on Wednesday.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's adviser for religious affairs, Mahmoud Habbash, called Friedman a "terrorist settler" in comments published by official news agency WAFA.

The Palestinian government was unconvinced by the embassy's explanation, with a spokesman calling the incident an example of "reckless and racist arrogance", according to WAFA.

In a picture published Tuesday night by ultra-Orthodox Jewish news site Kikar Hashabbat, the Al-Aqsa mosque, on a to both Muslims and Jews, is replaced by a simulation of a Jewish temple.

The picture further inflamed anger amongst Palestinians, already furious over last week's transfer of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem after Washington recognised the disputed city as capital of Israel.

A US embassy statement said the doctored image was pushed in front of Friedman without his consent during a visit to a charitable institution in Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv.

"Ambassador Friedman was not aware of the image thrust in front of him when the photo was taken," it said.

"He was deeply disappointed that anyone would take advantage of his visit to Bnei Brak to create controversy."

It said it had demanded an apology from the charity Achiya, an official of which had presented the picture to Friedman.

In a statement published in Israeli media, the group said a member of its staff had presented the picture on his own initiative without consulting others.

"We regret that a petty political gesture spoiled this event," it added.

Friedman, who is Jewish and a longstanding supporter of Jewish settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, is deeply unpopular among Palestinians.

Abbas in March labelled him a "son of a dog".

The story of the contentious picture hit the front pages of several Palestinian newspapers on Wednesday.

The Al-Aqsa compound is a shrine for Muslims worldwide and a potent symbol of Palestinian national identity.

The second Palestinian intifada broke out in 2000 after right-wing Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the site.

Jews also revere the site, known in Judaism as Temple Mount and believed to be the location of the first and second biblical Jewish temples.

Jews are allowed to visit but not to pray there, to avoid provoking tensions.

Scene of recurring clashes

It is the scene of . Last July, three Israeli Arabs shot dead nearby and fled into the mosque compound — known in Arabic as the Haram al-Sharif, or noble sanctuary — where they were themselves gunned down.

Israel feared weapons had been hidden inside the compound and closed it for two days while it set up , including metal detectors and surveillance cameras.

Tensions over the move spiralled into days of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces as worshippers gathered for protest prayers outside the compound.

The metal detectors were later removed.

The US embassy reiterated Wednesday that it did not support any change to the status of Jerusalem's holy places.