Abbas accuses Israel of religious war

2014-11-11 21:11
(Abbas Momani, AFP)

(Abbas Momani, AFP)

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Ramallah - The Palestinian president on Tuesday accused Israel of provoking a "religious war" as new violence between the sides broke out in the West Bank, leaving a Palestinian man dead, amid mounting concerns that their long-running conflict is entering a new and dangerous phase.

Mahmoud Abbas blamed the latest tensions on a series of visits by Jewish worshippers to Jerusalem's most sensitive holy site. The visits to the contested site have helped fan strife in a region already on edge following this summer's bloody war in the Gaza Strip and the earlier failure of US Secretary of State John Kerry's Mideast peace efforts.

Abbas' remarks - at a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat - came as Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian demonstrator in clashes in the West Bank on Tuesday.

The shooting happened a day after a Palestinian from the West Bank city of Nablus stabbed and killed a 20-year-old Israeli soldier at a crowded Tel Aviv train station and another Palestinian assailant stabbed three people at a bus stop next to a West Bank settlement, killing a 25-year-old Israeli woman and wounding two others.

Much of the recent unrest has stemmed from tensions surrounding the holy site in Jerusalem's Old City, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

It is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the gold-topped Dome of the Rock, the third-holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. It is also revered as the location of the biblical temples, the most sacred place in Judaism.

Palestinians in east Jerusalem have carried out violent protests, alleging that Jewish zealots are secretly trying to gain control of the site. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, as their capital.

While Jews are permitted to visit the hilltop compound, they are not supposed to pray. Palestinian fears have been heightened by an increased number of visits by Jewish hard-liners and calls by members of Netanyahu's governing coalition for an expanded Jewish presence there. They also object to Israeli restrictions on Muslims entering the compound. Israel says the restrictions are security measures.

In an address to thousands of people at his West Bank headquarters, Abbas accused Israel of trying to divide the mosque compound, comparing it to the experience of a holy site in the West Bank that was split between Jewish and Muslim sides after an Israeli settler gunned down 29 Muslim worshippers there 20 years ago.

"Leaders of Israel make a mistake if they think they can divide the Al-Aqsa Mosque as they have done in Ibrahimi Mosque, and they will retreat from this one too," he said.

"By dividing the mosques, they are leading us to a religious war, and no one, Muslim or Christian, will accept that Jerusalem be theirs," Abbas said. "Jerusalem is our capital, and there will be no concessions."

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