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Palestinian, Israeli, and foreign officials express concerns over Al-Aqsa crisis

July 21, 2017 9:46 P.M. (Updated: July 24, 2017 1:22 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- As thousands of Palestinians marched across the occupied Palestinian territory on Friday to denounce increased Israeli security measures at the Al-Aqsa -- demonstrations which Israeli forces violently repressed, injuring scores and killing three -- Palestinian, Israeli, and international officials reacted to the ongoing crisis, which some said marked a new boiling point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Waqf, the Islamic endowment administering Al-Aqsa, called for all Muslim worshipers in East Jerusalem to head towards Al-Aqsa on Friday to denounce the installation of metal detectors, turnstiles, and additional security cameras in the compound after a shooting attack on July 14 left the assailants, three Palestinian citizens of Israel, and two Israeli border police officers killed.

Palestinians have seen the measures at Al-Aqsa as the latest example of Israeli authorities using Israeli-Palestinian violence and tensions as a means of furthering control over important sites in the occupied Palestinian territory and normalizing heightened measures by Israeli forces targeting Palestinians.

In protest, Palestinian Muslims have refused to go through the new security measures at Al-Aqsa, performing prayers in the streets outside of the compound instead.

Palestinian leaders denounce Israeli measures at Al-Aqsa

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who cut a diplomatic visit to China short this week as tensions escalated in Jerusalem, was set to give a speech on Friday evening, which was repeatedly postponed.

Israeli news outlet Ynet reported that Abbas had contacted Jared Kushner, United States President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East adviser, on Thursday to ask the US to intercede and pressure Israel to remove the metal detectors at the entrance of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Hamas politburo head Ismael Haniyeh said that Friday’s demonstrations -- which also took place in the West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip -- showed the unity of the Palestinian people in support of Al-Aqsa.

Haniyeh said that Palestinians’ reaction was about much more than the installation of metal detectors, and marked a wholehearted rejection of the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem.

He added that Palestinian opposition to the developments in Al-Aqsa was the only thing stopping Israel from claiming full sovereignty over the compound.

Earlier in the day, Palestinian National Initiative Secretary-General Mustafa Barghouthi -- who was among worshipers who were assaulted by Israeli forces on Monday while performing prayers outside of the Al-Aqsa compound -- said that religious and political Palestinian figures had met in Jerusalem and unanimously rejected the Israeli measures at Al-Aqsa.

Meanwhile, the Fatah movement -- the leading party of the Palestinian Authority -- denounced the detention of two of its officials in Jerusalem during overnight raids Thursday ahead of the demonstrations.

The Palestinian Prisoner’s Society said in a statement on Friday that an Israeli court had extended the detentions of Fatah secretary in Jerusalem Adnan Ghaith and Fatah official Hatem Abd al-Qadir until Sunday.

Fatah official Munir al-Jaghoub said that the detentions would not deter Fatah from defending the Al-Aqsa Mosque, adding that the oft-repeated chant of “With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice for you Al-Aqsa” would not remain just words.

Al-Jaghoub’s statement came hours before three Palestinians -- 18-year-old Muhammad Mahmoud Sharaf, 20-year-old Muhammad Abu Ghannam, and 17-year-old Muhammad Mahmoud Khalaf -- were shot and killed by Israelis in clashes in East Jerusalem and in the central occupied West Bank village of Abu Dis.

Israeli officials conflicted over how to handle situation

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on Friday that a number of Israeli government and security officials were urging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to find a solution to appease tensions in Jerusalem “with dignity.”

Israeli police decided on Friday morning to maintain the metal detectors installed at the entrance of the Al-Aqsa compound, and ruled to prevent Palestinian men below the age of 50 to enter the Old City and Al-Aqsa ahead of the mass demonstration.

Israel's intelligence service, the Shin Bet, and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) have both expressed reservations to Netanyahu about the use of metal detectors at Al-Aqsa, arguing that the anger sparked by the measures might outweigh the security benefits of keeping them.

Israeli Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan reportedly told Israel’s Army Radio on Thursday that the prime minister would likely "consider changing the decision" regarding the metal detectors.

Meanwhile, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday, despite opposition from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Haaretz reported.

In the call, Rivlin reportedly condemned the deadly shooting attack in East Jerusalem’s Old City on July 14, while maintaining that Israel would maintain the status quo at religious sites in Jerusalem.

Following Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has maintained a compromise with the Islamic trust that controls the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to not allow non-Muslim prayers in the area. However, non-Muslims are permitted to visit the site during designated times.

Palestinians have long feared that Israel has been attempting to shake up the status quo at the holy site, in the shape of routine Jewish incursions on the site and right-wing Israeli calls to demolish the mosque and replace it with a third Jewish temple.

Israeli Minister of Intelligence and Transportation Yisrael Katz, a member of the right-wing Likud party, said on Friday that Israel would maintain control over the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Arutz Sheva reported.

"The Temple Mount is in our hands," Katz said, using the Israeli term for the compound, which Jews believe to have been built over where the First and Second Temples once stood. "We will not cede sovereignty."

International community call for end to violence

In his call with Rivlin, Erdogan -- who also spoke with Abbas on Thursday -- denounced the July 14 attack in East Jerusalem, while requesting that Israel nonetheless remove the metal detectors installed at Al-Aqsa.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed “deep concern” over Israeli escalation in Jerusalem, and severely denounced the deaths of three Palestinians and the wounding of hundreds of others on Friday, calling for an immediate end to the violence.

The ministry stressed that Israel should respect all holy sites, as well as Palestinians’ freedom of worship without unfair restrictions that spark resentment and tensions.

The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs meanwhile reiterated the country’s “preoccupation” with the situation in Jerusalem during a press briefing on Friday.

“We call on all parties to refrain from any act or statement that could exacerbate tensions and to work toward easing the situation,” a spokesperson for the ministry said. “Any attempt at calling the status quo into question could threaten to destabilize the situation.”
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