Israel's prime minister has accused the Palestinian president of inciting tensions. On Tuesday, Mahmoud Abbas told crowds that Israel "was leading the region and the world to a destructive religious war."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's comments followed warnings by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas earlier Tuesday that Israeli actions to change the rules of access at a disputed Muslim-Jewish holy site in Jerusalem "are leading the region and the world to a destructive religious war." Abbas had spoken in the city of Ramallah as tens of thousands marched in Palestinian cities in the West Bank on the 10th anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat (pictured), who for decades led their cause for an independent state.
"Unfortunately, Abu Mazen is not a partner in the fight against terror," the Israeli daily Haaretz quoted Netanyahu as saying after a meeting of his security Cabinet, using another name for Abbas. "Instead of calming the unrest, he is enflaming it and spreading lies," Netanyahu added.
Israel deployed thousands of police Tuesday as Palestinians held ceremonies and marches to honor their former leader Arafat, who died aged 75 on November 11, 2004, of a brain hemorrhage caused by complications from a bowel infection. In the latest deadly incident on Tuesday, Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian during clashes near Hebron in the West Bank. Military sources said soldiers shot the man after they came under attack by a crowd pelting petrol bombs and stones.
'Settlers and extremists'
Supporters shouted slogans in support of Abbas as marchers waved Palestinian flags and the yellow banners of the Fatah party, founded by Arafat. Speaking before thousands of people in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, Abbas said a series of recent violent confrontations had been triggered by Israel letting Jewish worshippers visit the contested al-Aqsa site and demands by radical Jews for the right to pray there.
"We call on you to keep your settlers and extremists away from al-Aqsa," Abbas said. "They should not be allowed to enter."
Under a status quo observed for decades, Jews may visit, but not pray an the site, known in Judaism as the Temple Mount, the religion's most sacred place, but also the Noble Sanctuary, Islam's third holiest location, home to the al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock mosques. Calls by Jewish to allow prayer rights on the mount, or even to destroy the mosques to rebuild the temple, have sparked rage and unease among Palestinians. Public statements by Prime Minister Netanyahu that the calls do not represent Israeli government policy have failed to calm fears as settlers continue to expand their territory in the West Bank.
mkg/es (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)