Turkish visits to Jerusalem booming despite US move
Turkish bookings to Jerusalem are booming, despite turmoil and controversy since last month's controversial U.S. move, according to tour companies and NGOs.
The news comes less than a month after U.S. President Donald Trump announced his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, triggering condemnation worldwide and widespread protests in the holy lands.
Turkey has been at the forefront of raising the issue at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the UN, and ranks first among Islamic countries visiting Jerusalem.
Adem Yenihayat, head of the Burak Foundation, an Istanbul-based NGO that organizes tours to Muslim holy sites, said they are having trouble keeping up due to a flood of applications.
Yenihayat said, "We used to have an average of 350 people visiting Jerusalem with our group annually, but now it's about 350 just this month.
"We're having trouble meeting demand. We had to keep the incoming applications on a waiting list. There are also a lot of bookings for the coming months."
Ahmet Hakan Karagul, deputy head of the Ashab-i Aqsa Foundation, said, "After Turkey, Muslims from Malaysia and Indonesia are also very interested."
Karagul said tickets for Turkish Airlines and other carriers from Turkey have already been sold out by tour groups without even announcing the dates.
"There are no available hotels near Al-Aqsa Mosque, as they've been reserved months in advance. The developments have galvanized Muslims, and they began to claim Al-Aqsa Mosque," Karagul added.
Numan Balci, owner of the Kible (Qibla) Tourism company and Jerusalem guide, blasted the U.S. move as "arrogant".
Balci said, "The Israeli authorities reported that 2,300 Turks arrived in Jerusalem last Friday. Normally 150-200 people were going. Demand increased at our company as well. We've prepared our tour itineraries for the first six months of 2018."
"The occupancy rate is now 70 percent. I think this number will go up even more if Turkish Airlines revises its prices," he added.
Last month, the UN overwhelmingly rejected the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Only a handful of states stood with the U.S. in the 128-9 vote, despite its threat to cut aid to countries that voted against it.