Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday warned that the Palestinians will not allow Israeli extremists to “contaminate” the Temple Mount, and said that allowing Jewish prayer at the site would risk a global religious war.
The PA leader also maintained that the rioters at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the disputed holy site had the right to defend themselves, and said Muslims and Christians would never recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Abbas’s remarks (Arabic link) came in an address to thousands who gathered in Ramallah in honor of the 10th anniversary of the death of PLO leader Yasser Arafat, during which he cautioned the Israeli government against changing the status quo at the Temple Mount.
“Keep the settlers and the extremists away from Al-Aqsa and our holy places,” Abbas demanded. “We will not allow our holy places to be contaminated. Keep them away from us and we will stay away from them, but if they enter al-Aqsa, [we] will protect al-Aqsa and the church and the entire country,” he said. It was unclear what church Abbas was referring to.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeated several times in recent days that he does not intend to change the status quo at the site — the holiest in Judaism, and the third-holiest in Islam. Jews are allowed to visit but forbidden from praying at the contested site, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war, but where it allowed the Muslim Waqf authorities to remain in administrative charge.
Abbas praised the “heroes” stationed on the Temple Mount combating the ostensible dangers there, and said they “have the right to defend themselves and the holy places” if attacked.
Israeli security forces have chased rioters who fled into the al-Aqsa mosque on several occasions, but Israel denied a claim last week that troops went deep into the mosque. Israeli forces say the Palestinians store rocks, bottles and Molotov cocktails inside the mosque for use in violent protests.
Abbas also vowed to present a resolution to the UN Security Council this month demanding a timetable for the end of Israeli occupation by November 2016, and said “no pressure” would deter him from this course.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of spreading “lies” about Israel to incite Israeli Arabs and Palestinians alike, and announced new measures to crack down on rampant unrest.
Following a three-hour security cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, the prime minister detailed a series of new measures Israel will take to check the wave of violence that has spread from East Jerusalem and the West Bank to Arab Israeli cities.
“We are in the midst of a campaign of incitement and terrorism directed against the State of Israel and its citizens,” Netanyahu said. “This campaign has continued since the foundation of the state and even before then. We have defeated terrorism until today and we will defeat it this time as well.”
“Today, Abu Mazen [Abbas] has again proven that he is irresponsible,” he said. “Instead of calming the situation he is inflaming it. Instead of speaking the truth, he is disseminating lies to the effect that we intend, or are operating in some way, to change the status of the holy places – this is a gross lie.”
Netanyahu criticized the international community for remaining silent in the face of Abbas’s “wild incitement” and appealed to Israel’s Arab population to not be drawn further into the fracas.
“The sad thing is that the international community that rushes to condemn every balcony that we build in our capital city, simply ignores this wild incitement of Abu Mazen’s and thus it encourages him to continue actions that could ignite the entire Middle East.”
Amid a wave of violence in the West Bank and Israel, the IDF on Tuesday deployed an Iron Dome missile defense battery in northern Israel as a precaution against possible rocket fire from Lebanon or Syria.
Iron Dome units were positioned near the northern city of Haifa, home to Israel’s largest port and home base for its navy. The army told Channel 2 that the missile defense battery was being deployed based on security assessments, but gave no specific information regarding the development.
In addition 2,000 combat soldiers were deployed to the West Bank to bolster security around settlements in the region following a fatal terror attack in the Etzion bloc area on Monday that claimed the life of 24-year-old Israeli woman.
An IDF soldier was lightly injured Tuesday during clashes between the army and dozens of Palestinian protesters on a main road near the West Bank city of Ramallah, as violent riots raged across the region for a fourth consecutive day.
According to the Ynet news site, at least 50 Palestinian demonstrators hurled stones at an IDF unit, whose members responded with riot dispersal means.
In a separate incident Tuesday evening, a stun grenade thrown from a rooftop in downtown Jerusalem exploded in Zion Square, sending bystanders in the popular pedestrian shopping area scurrying, the Walla news site reported. No injuries or damage were reported in the incident, and police were searching the area for the perpetrator of the attack.
Israel’s security cabinet convened Tuesday evening in Jerusalem to discuss the deteriorating security situation as beefed up police and security forces were dispatched to major cities and across the West Bank in a bid to restore quiet after several days of unrest and a wave of violent attacks. There were no immediate reports of details from the meeting.