Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday warned that the Palestinians will not allow Israeli extremists to “contaminate” the Temple Mount, and said that allowing Jewish prayer at the site would risk a global religious war.
The PA leader also maintained that the rioters at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the disputed holy site had the right to defend themselves, and said Muslims and Christians would never recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Abbas’s remarks (Arabic link) came in an address to thousands who gathered in Ramallah in honor of the 10th anniversary of the death of PLO leader Yasser Arafat, during which he cautioned the Israeli government against changing the status quo at the Temple Mount.
“Keep the settlers and the extremists away from Al-Aqsa and our holy places,” Abbas demanded. “We will not allow our holy places to be contaminated. Keep them away from us and we will stay away from them, but if they enter al-Aqsa, [we] will protect al-Aqsa and the church and the entire country,” he said. It was unclear what church Abbas was referring to.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeated several times in recent days that he does not intend to change the status quo at the site — the holiest in Judaism, and the third-holiest in Islam. Jews are allowed to visit but forbidden from praying at the contested site, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war, but where it allowed the Muslim Waqf authorities to remain in administrative charge.
Abbas praised the “heroes” stationed on the Temple Mount combating the ostensible dangers there, and said they “have the right to defend themselves and the holy places” if attacked.
Israeli security forces have chased rioters who fled into the al-Aqsa mosque on several occasions, but Israel denied a claim last week that troops went deep into the mosque. Israeli forces say the Palestinians store rocks, bottles and Molotov cocktails inside the mosque for use in violent protests.
“Israel’s leaders are making a big mistake if they think they can turn back history, to impose a reality, and to divide the al-Aqsa Mosque [into separate prayers times and areas] as they divided the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron,” Abbas said, using the Arabic term for the Cave of the Patriarchs, which hosts both Jewish and Muslim prayer. Such a move “would be unsuccessful, since in their actions, Israel’s leaders will lead the region and world into a devastating religious war,” he added.
Abbas also castigated Israel for seeking to “impose facts via illegal settlement building.” He said Palestinian claims to all territory captured by Israel in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 were “not up for debate.”
“The Muslim and Christian worlds will never accept Israel’s claims that Jerusalem belongs to them. The Jerusalem that was occupied in 1967 belongs to us,” he said.
Abbas also vowed to present a resolution to the UN Security Council in the coming month demanding a timetable for the end of Israeli occupation by November 2016, and said “no pressure” would deter him from this course.
The PA president was also harshly critical of Palestinian faction Hamas, accusing the terror group of trying “to destroy” efforts to broker national unity through a series of bomb blasts in Gaza last week.
Abbas said Hamas was behind the attacks targeting leaders of his Fatah movement in Gaza, saying the rival faction was trying “to sabotage and destroy the Palestinian national project.”
Hamas and Fatah signed a unity pact earlier this year, though the agreement has come under the strain of internal disputes and a violent summer.
Hamas condemned the PA president’s remarks Tuesday as a “web of lies.”
“Abbas’s speech is a web of lies, insults and disinformation,” said Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, denouncing the Palestinian leader as “sectarian and partisan. ”
“What the Palestinian people need is a courageous president,” he said.
In his address Tuesday, Abbas also maintained that Jerusalem will never be recognized as the capital of Israel in the eyes of the Christian and Muslim worlds.
“No one will accept that Jerusalem is the capital of anything but the state of Palestine,” he said, later clarifying the he was referring to the areas outside the pre-1967 lines.
Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett have repeatedly said in past weeks that the PA president was fanning the flames of violence in the capital. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Tuesday said Abbas’s incitement had been a factor in an ongoing wave of terrorism, and urged the PA to help calm the situation.
AFP contributed to this report.