Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque is a precursor to the “liberation” of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Istanbul’s sixth-century iconic Hagia Sophia — a former cathedral that was turned into a mosque after Istanbul’s conquest by the Ottoman Empire — had served as a museum for 86 years.

But on Friday, to the dismay of Orthodox Christians in the country, Erdogan formally announced that Hagia Sophia would be reconverted into a mosque after a high court annulled the 1934 decision that had turned it into a museum. Within hours, Erdogan signed a decree handing over Hagia Sophia to Turkey’s Religious Affairs Presidency and declared it open to Muslim worship.

According to the pro-government Turkish daily, Yeni Şafak, the Turkish leader then said that “the resurrection of Hagia Sophia was the harbinger of the liberation of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and footsteps of Muslims’ will to leave hard days behind.”

Jerusalem was under the authority of the Ottoman Empire, the forerunner of the Republic of Turkey, until 1917 when it was liberated by the British during World War I. Erdogan, an Islamist, has frequently railed at Israel in regard to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is situated on the Temple Mount — the holiest place in Judaism.

Erdogan’s decision over Hagia Sophia is the latest action by the Turkish president in furthering Islamism in the country and advancing dreams of a restored Ottoman empire under his leadership.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on Tuesday condemned Erdogan’s comments that his decision over Hagia Sofia was a forerunner to the “liberation” of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

“We are appalled by the incendiary and offensive statement made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan… implying that he seeks to take control of the holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City, which is home to the al-Aqsa Mosque,” the umbrella group representing 53 Jewish organizations said in a statement.”

It continued, “This outrageous rhetoric regarding the al-Aqsa Mosque can and has incited violence against Israel and its citizens — and will add to tensions in the region. We condemn it strongly and urge President Erdogan to recant his inflammatory words and actions.”

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