Mobilizing militia, Abbas approves mass protests Friday over Temple Mount
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Mobilizing militia, Abbas approves mass protests Friday over Temple Mount

Leaders of Tanzim gather to plan West Bank demonstrations; Fatah youth group announces it will attempt to block roads and 'isolate settlements'

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli security forces near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, on July 24, 2017. (AFP/Abbas Momani)
Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli security forces near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, on July 24, 2017. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

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.

A Muslim man prays in front of a closed gate leading onto the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem on July 26, 2017. AFP/ AHMAD GHARABLI)
A Muslim man prays in front of a closed gate leading onto the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem on July 26, 2017. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

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.”

Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas addresses a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah on July 21, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)
Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas addresses a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah on July 21, 2017. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

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.

Members of Palestinian forces loyal to Hamas take part in a military parade in Gaza City on July 26, 2017 amid a tense standoff is underway between Israel and Muslim worshipers at Jerusalem's Temple Mount compound. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)
Members of Palestinian forces loyal to Hamas take part in a military parade in Gaza City on July 26, 2017 amid a tense standoff is underway between Israel and Muslim worshipers at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount compound. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

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.

Police officers guard at an entrance to the Temple Mount, as a group of Muslims walk by metal railings installed at the site after a recent terror attack on July 25, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Police officers guard at an entrance to the Temple Mount, as a group of Muslims walk by metal railings installed at the site after a recent terror attack on July 25, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

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.

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