Amid Clashes Over Mount, Erekat Accuses of Israel of Trying to Justify Crackdown

By Avi Issacharoff (Haaretz)

Published October 06, 2009.
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A senior Palestinian official on Tuesday accused Israel of deliberately creating “an extremely dangerous situation” in East Jerusalem, to trigger violence, justify a crackdown and tighten its grip on the disputed city.

“Israel is lighting matches in the hope of sparking a fire, deliberately escalating tensions in occupied East Jerusalem rather than taking steps to placate the situation,” chief peace negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a statement before meetings later this week with U.S. President Barack Obama’s envoy.

Palestinian leaders have issued a series of warnings in the past week after clashes at Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City between Israeli police and protesters, over alleged attempts by Jewish religious activists to enter the site.

The Western-backed Palestinian government on Monday said it would “confront Israel” diplomatically over the rise in tension, after another day of clashes between groups of stone-throwing youths and police firing tear-gas and plastic bullets.

The United States and Jordan are trying to ease the tensions surrounding the Temple Mount area in Jerusalem, with Jordan asking Israel to prevent the entry of Jews and tourists to the site until the situation calms down, sources close to the situation told Haaretz.

Confrontations continued Monday between Palestinian demonstrators and security forces. One Israeli soldier was stabbed and the number of people detained since the latest disturbances began reached 50.

Since 2003 the Israel Police has allowed free access to the Temple Mount to Jews and tourists from 7:30 to 10 A.M. and from 12:30 to 1:30 P.M., via the Mugrabi Gate.

Before the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000, these visits had to be coordinated with the Waqf religious trust, which is under Jordanian control. Between 2000 and 2003, non-Muslims were completely barred from the Temple Mount area, until the Israel Police decided unilaterally to reverse the ban.

A senior Jordanian source told Haaretz that the police must keep Jewish religious extremists away from the Temple Mount and keep the Mugrabi Gate closed. “That will calm the atmosphere while respecting the Jordanian role in Al-Aqsa Mosque,” he said.

The Palestinian Authority, which also has an interest in calming the situation, is to hold negotiations on the rules for visiting the compound with Israel and the Waqf, with the aim of forging an agreement that will allow tourists to visit under the sole supervision of the Waqf.

Hatem Abdel Qader, PA adviser on Jerusalem affairs, who was arrested on suspicion of incitement three days ago and later released, approves of such an agreement. He says Israel’s unilateral decision to let non-Muslims enter the Temple Mount offends Muslim worshipers because the women among the former often dress inappropriately.

U.S. diplomats, meanwhile, are pressuring both the PA and Israel to work to reduce tensions. U.S. officials have spoken with Abdel Qader and stressed that everyone involved must take action to prevent the situation from worsening. “We’re not interested in an escalation,” one Fatah official said, praising the decision by the Israel Police to keep the Mugrabi Gate closed on Monday.

There were a number of incidents across Jerusalem Monday: Near the Anata (Shuafat) refugee camp a Palestinian teen stabbed a Border Police officer, wounding him moderately, before being arrested. In the evening Palestinians threw rocks at police officers near the checkpoint at the camp’s entrance.

In Ras al Amud, east of the Old City, four police officers were injured when Palestinian teenagers threw rocks at them; 10 suspects were arrested. Police officers dressed as Arabs arrested masked Palestinian teens who threw rocks at police after officers kept a large number of Palestinians from approaching the Old City and Temple Mount.

In the Wadi Joz neighborhood there was a confrontation between police officers and about 100 supporters of the Islamic Movement’s northern branch when the police tried to approach the Old City. The crowd was dispersed with little violence.

It now appears, however, that the Islamic Movement’s northern branch is trying to fan the flames. Sheikh Ra’ad Salah, the branch’s leader, called on all Muslims on Monday to come to Al-Aqsa Mosque and remain inside for as long as it takes “to protect Al-Aqsa.” He told an Arab television station that the Israeli occupation seeks to build a synagogue on Al-Aqsa Mosque.

“We call on everyone who is able to enter Al-Aqsa Mosque immediately and remain there for as long as required, for the sake of Al-Quds [Jerusalem] and for the sake of Al-Aqsa,” Salah said in an interview.

“As long as there is occupation [by Israel], there is danger [to the mosque]. We must be in a state of constant readiness because of the potential damage to 1 billion Muslims. Al-Quds is ours and was, and is, sacred ground for Muslims. That is our position. We will not concede even if we die for this position. We will continue with these measures for as long as Al-Aqsa is under threat.”

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