Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said a global religious war could be triggered if Jews are allowed to pray on the Temple Mount in Al-Aqsa mosque, which in his words would “contaminate” it.
Abbas also warned the Israeli government against changing the status quo at the site, which is holy for both Muslims and Jews, adding that protesters at Al-Aqsa mosque have the right to defend themselves. Abbas was apparently referring to clashes provoked by the closure of the holy site earlier. [link to our article]
Speaking at the 10th anniversary of the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Abbas said Muslims and Christians would never recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
“Keep the settlers and the extremists away from Al-Aqsa and our holy places,” Abbas said. “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.”
Jews are allowed to come to Al-Aqsa but they cannot pray inside the building. It was captured by Israel in 1967, but Muslims govern the area.
Abbas warned against any Israeli plans to divide the mosque. “Israel’s leaders are making a big mistake if they think they can turn back history, to impose a reality, and to divide the Al-Aqsa Mosque [into separate prayers times and areas] as they divided the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron,” Abbas said, adding that Muslims “have the right to defend themselves and the holy places” if attacked.
With the current situation unfolding, Israel is “leading the region and the world to a destructive religious war,” Abbas claimed.
Israeli authorities have repeatedly stated that they are not planning to change the current situation. They also denied reports last week that the nation’s security forces have followed rioters into Al-Aqsa mosque.
Meanwhile, Israel claims that Palestinians use the mosque for storing items such as Molotov cocktails, rocks, and bottles.
Abbas also said that areas occupied by Israel since 1967 are “not up for debate.”
“The Muslim and Christian worlds will never accept Israel’s claims that Jerusalem belongs to them. The Jerusalem that was occupied in 1967 belongs to us,” he said.
The remarks of Abbas came on the same day that another Palestinian demonstrator was killed by Israeli forces near the West Bank city of Hebron. A trooper fatally shot 21-year-old Imad Jawabreh in the chest after he pointed an “improvised weapon,” according to Israeli authorities. The shooting came amid clashes between the Israelis and stone-throwing Palestinians in the area.
Violent clashes in front of Al-Aqsa mosque have also intensified over the past month.
On Wednesday, Israeli police shut access to Al-Aqsa mosque to Muslim worshipers for several hours due to continued clashes in the city.
The shutdown was triggered after clashes in the streets of East Jerusalem and the Old City, in which Palestinian youths attacked Israeli police with stones and firecrackers.
Israel’s control of access to Al-Aqsa has been a sore point in relations between Jews and Palestinians for decades. However, tensions at the holy site have been particularly high since last week, when Israel closed it to Muslim worshipers.
Israeli police closed the site for the first time since 1963 in retaliation for the killing of a prominent right-wing Jewish activist, provoking outcry from the Arab population. Access was renewed a day later, but males under 50 were still banned from entering.