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PLO slams 'provocative attack' on Jerusalem worshipers

Sept. 27, 2009 9:52 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 28, 2009 5:04 P.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - The top Palestinian negotiator, Dr Saeb Erakat, on Sunday condemned what he termed Israeli violence against worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem earlier the same day.

"This attack on ordinary civilians and worshippers at Al-Aqsa is unacceptable," he said in a statement to Ma'an. "Israel must cease all actions that will only inflame the situation."

Dozens of Palestinians and several police officers sustained injuries during clashes that erupted after a group settlers reportedly entered the Old City compound under the watch of Israeli forces operating in the area.

"Providing a police escort for settlers who are against peace at all costs, and whose presence is deliberately designed to provoke a reaction, are not the actions of someone who is committed to peace, but of someone who will go to extraordinary lengths to scuttle all hopes of peace."

As many as nine Palestinians were arrested over their reaction to what Erekat called a provocation that should never have been allowed to happen in the first place due to the holy city's sensitivity in negotiations.

"The fate of Jerusalem lies in negotiations. It will not be decided by violence or brutality, or by Israeli settlers seemingly determined to destroy Jerusalem as it once was, an open and multicultural city, and home to the world’s three great monotheistic faiths," he said.

The top Palestine Liberation Organization official, who has sought unsuccessfully to get Israel's right-wing government to agree to hold off on building settlements in occupied territory for a short while to allow for negotiations, called Sunday's events detrimental to the peace process.

"At a time when President Obama is trying to bridge the divide between Palestinians and Israelis, and to get negotiations back on track, Israel is deliberately escalating tensions in Jerusalem," Erekat said.

"Emboldened by its ability to fend off calls for a settlement freeze, the fear is that Israel will now try to fan the flames of violence in the Middle East knowing that it has little to worry about when it comes to being held accountable for its actions," he said.

Erekat alleged that Sunday's events were not only reminiscent of Ariel Sharon's provocative visit to Al-Aqsa in 2000 that helped set off the second intifada, but were "deliberately timed to coincide with the eve of the anniversary of that visit." "We’ve seen this before, and we know what the consequences are."

His condemnation was echoed by the Palestinian Authority's religious affairs minister, Mahmoud Al-Habbash, the Islamic movement Hamas' de facto government in Gaza, and Jerusalem's archbishop, Atallah Hana.

Erakat concluded by calling on the international community to assume its responsibility toward Jerusalem.

"East Jerusalem is occupied under international law, and it is recognized as such by the international community. Yet little is being done to save Jerusalem," Erekat said. "Israel’s actions are both illegal and are designed to make Jerusalem a 'united city' for Israeli settlers only, while Israel continues to target the city's Christian and Muslim population."
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