Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday approved plans by the leaders of the Fatah Tanzim militia to organize mass demonstrations on Friday as tensions escalated over Jerusalem’s contested Temple Mount.
The move came hours after both Fatah and its Hamas rival called for a second week for demonstrations throughout the West Bank and Jerusalem on Friday to protest Israeli security measures at the flashpoint holy site, significantly raising fears of renewed violence even after Israel removed metal detectors at the Mount.
Meetings on Wednesday took place between representatives of various Palestinian factions at the office of Fatah deputy chairman Mahmoud al-Aloul. Jabal al-Mheissen, responsible for the Tanzim on the Fatah central committee, and former Palestinian intelligence chief Tawfik Tirawi were at the meetings, along with the heads of Fatah’s regional branches in the West Bank.
The purpose of the meetings was to plan for mass demonstrations starting Friday and continuing in the days after.
Abbas, who was not present, approved the holding of the meetings, their content, and the decisions that were taken.
The Tanzim, an armed militia loosely affiliated with Fatah, was a key player in violent demonstrations at the start of the Second Intifada in 2000. Its leader then was Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life terms in jail for orchestrating deadly terrorism during the Second Intifada.
Despite the fact that Israel early Tuesday removed the metal detectors it had installed at the holy site following a deadly attack there on July 14, the assembled leaders called to conduct Friday prayers in public places — not in mosques — in protest of continued security measures at the Temple Mount, as well as for general readiness and “escalating” protests “in all of Palestine as an [act of] victory for the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
In addition, Fatah’s Shabiba youth movement called on Palestinians to remain “steadfast” in the defense of Jerusalem.
In a statement, the youth movement backed Abbas’s decision to freeze all coordination with Israel, and called for widespread participation in planned protests on Friday.
The movement promised “the expansion of the circle of confrontation with the occupation forces, isolation of settlements and the opening of all fronts, in villages, cities and refugee camps.”
The statement said the planned actions will target all settlements and roads leading to them.
Earlier Wednesday, the Fatah Central Committee called for Muslims to “intensify the popular struggle” over the Temple Mount.
The Hamas terror group also called for a fresh “day of rage” throughout the West Bank on Friday to protest continued Israeli security measures at the site.
The groups made similar calls a week ago, leading to intense protests throughout the West Bank in which five Palestinians were killed and a terror attack by a Palestinian teen who stabbed to death three members of a family celebrating Shabbat in the settlement of Halamish Friday night.
The protests were initially sparked when Israel installed metal detectors following a July 14 terror attack by three Arab Israelis who shot two Israeli police officers to death with guns that had been smuggled onto the Temple Mount.
The government said the metal detectors were necessary to prevent further attacks, while Palestinians claimed Israel was trying to expand its control over the site.
Israel removed the metal detectors early Tuesday morning, responding to intense pressure. Israel’s security cabinet announced that in place of the metal detectors it would eventually employ non-intrusive “advanced technologies,” reportedly smart cameras that can detect hidden objects. The new security system was to be set up in the next six months at a cost of $28 million.
Cameras at the entrance to the Temple Mount set up after the July 14 terror attack were also taken down, though cameras that were previously in place around the Old City remain, a police official said Tuesday.
Muslim leaders have vowed to continue protesting until all security measures, including metal railings at the Gate of the Tribes entrance to the site, are removed.
The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and is revered as the site of the biblical temples. It is also the third-holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina, and is known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif. Under an arrangement in place since Israel captured Jerusalem’s Old City in the Six Day War in 1967 and extended its sovereignty there, non-Muslims are allowed access to the site but are forbidden to pray there. Under this status quo, Israel is responsible for security at the site while the Jordanian trust — the Waqf — is in charge of administrative duties.