Lebanese president Michel Aoun on Tuesday called on the Arab League to unite for the sake of protecting the character of Jerusalem, warning that Israel wanted to “Judaize Palestine.”
Winding up a two-day official visit to Cairo before going on to the Jordanian capital Amman, Aoun also told the Arab League secretary general Ahmed Aboul Gheit that Arab nations need to come together “to preserve the character of Jerusalem, which brings together the two Christian and Muslim heritages.”
“Could we imagine Jerusalem without its esplanade of mosques, without the Church of the Holy Sepulchre?” he asked rhetorically.
Jerusalem is a raw subject for Israelis, Palestinians and Muslims at large. Israel, which annexed mainly Arab East Jerusalem in 1980, lays claim to the entire city, while the Palestinians insist that the city serve as their capital in any future peace agreement.
Israel was angered recently by a UNESCO resolution which denied any Jewish connection to the city and its holy sites.
Regional nerves were also frayed by US President Donald Trump’s election campaign promises to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, seen by all sides as a highly symbolic and potentially provocative move.
Recently, Trump has appeared to pull back from his promise. Late last month, he told Fox News that it was “too early” to make such a decision.
The issue is certain to come up during Trump’s scheduled meeting Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington.
For its part, the Arab League issued a statement Tuesday condemning the Israeli government’s backing for a bill to limit the volume of calls to prayer issued from the country’s mosques.
On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a new draft of the so-called Muezzin Bill.
The move represented “a new attack” by Israel on “freedom of worship in Palestine and occupied Jerusalem….., the cradle of the three monotheistic religions,” the League’s statement said.
Aoun, a Maronite Christian, who was elected president in October after a 29-month political stalemate, caused controversy on Monday when he blamed Israel for his country’s need to support the Iranian-backed Shiite terror group Hezbollah in “a complementary role to the Lebanese army.”
He told the Egyptian TV network CBC, “As long as the Lebanese army is not strong enough to battle Israel … we feel the need for its existence.”
The United Nations immediately responded by warning that Resolution 1701, reached as part of a ceasefire deal after the 2006 war between Israel and the terror group, prohibits the country from being allowed to field its own militia.
According to the Lebanese online news agency Naharnet, Aoun followed up his comments by saying Tuesday that any decisions about arms would comply with Lebanon’s National Defense Strategy.
“The matter is subject to the National Defense Strategy which we have been trying to set when the incidents got ahead of us,” Aoun told Egypt’s Nile News TV.
“Lebanon, relative to its surroundings in terms of both human and economic power, is incapable of building a military force capable of confronting the enemy. Therefore it has to use special ways for fighting, involving regular (army) and popular forces. This is the idea that can be translated into a realistic plan,” he added.