Jerusalem debate heats up

Jerusalem debate heats up

Jerusalem debate heats up

The Palestinian president says for the past years Israel was intending to destroy the Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque. REUTERS photo

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel on Feb. 26 of trying to erase any Arab identity from Jerusalem, drawing a strong response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who criticized the comments as inflammatory and contemptible.

Abbas, speaking at the International Conference for the Defense of Jerusalem in Doha, said that for the past few years Israel was intending to destroy Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque and has been waging a “final battle” aimed at erasing the Arab and Muslim character of east Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan during the 1967 Middle East war.

“Abbas knows full well that there is no foundation to his contemptible remarks, including his baseless and irresponsible claims regarding the al-Aqsa Mosque,” the Associated Press quoted Netanyahu as saying. “This is a harshly inflammatory speech from someone who claims that he is bent on peace.” The Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state they are looking to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Netanyahu, who opposes dividing the city, said Jerusalem has been the “eternal capital for the Jewish people” for thousands of years. He said Israel will continue to maintain the city’s holy sites and freedom of worship for all.

‘Judaization of Jerusalem’

The site looms large in the rival narratives of Israelis and Palestinians, and any perceived attempt to change the delicate division of control there quickly sets off protests. Violence erupted there Feb. 24 after Muslim noon prayers when hundreds of worshippers protested the rumored plans by far right activists to enter the shrine. The rumor was false, according to Israeli police.

Abbas said that through settlement building in the West Bank and Jerusalem, Israel is carrying out an “ethnic cleansing, in every sense against the Palestinian residents in order to turn them into minorities in their own city.”

Qatar also urged the United Nations to investigate settlement expansion of Israel in east Jerusalem, warning that Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories was unacceptable. “We must act quickly to stop the Judaization of Jerusalem,” said Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Agence France-Presse reported.

On behalf of Turkey, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay has said Jerusalem must be freed of Israeli occupation if a lasting settlement is to reign in the Middle East. “Without the liberation of Jerusalem, no real peace and stability can be achieved in the Middle East or farther afield,” Atalay told Anatolia news agency.

Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary General Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu said he had conveyed to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the OIC considers the al-Aqsa Mosque a red line for the Islamic ummah, impressing on her the need for an immediate end to Israeli violations in Jerusalem.