Turkey opens government department to help Jerusalem tourists

Turkey’s top religious body now has a department serving tourists visiting Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest city, Yeni Şafak newspaper reported on Saturday.

The Religious Affairs Directorate’s Department of Umrah and Jerusalem visits will be in charge of tours for voluntary pilgrimage and the Israeli capital, the newspaper said.

The directorate has prepared a special guide for Jerusalem tours with history about the city and significant sites, according to Yeni Şafak, including Hebron, Bethlehem and Jaffa.

Jerusalem is considered the third holiest city in Islam, following Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. The city is associated with prophets David, Solomon, and Jesus and was the first direction for Muslim prayer (qibla) before the Kaaba in Mecca.

Jerusalem was at the heart of tensions between Turkey and Israel in December 2017 when the countries’ leaders traded insults days after former U.S. President Donald Trump sparked fury by recognising the city as Israel's capital.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause and critic of Israel, warned of the consequences of Trump's decision, calling Israel a "terrorist state" that "kills children."