The main grouping of the world’s Muslim nations on Tuesday accused Israel of staging provocative actions and inflaming tensions with the Palestinians in a crisis over security measures at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Turkey hosted an extraordinary meeting in Istanbul of foreign ministers from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) that Ankara called to discuss the tensions in its current capacity as chairman of the body.
Turkey has full diplomatic relations with Israel after resolving last year a crisis in ties, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan remains vehemently critical of the Jewish state’s policy toward the Palestinians.
The meeting brought together foreign ministers and top officials from key Muslim nations, including Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose rival nations are locked in a bitter feud.
Israel angered the Islamic world by installing metal detectors and security cameras at the Old City of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount compound, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, following a July 14 terror attack at the site in which three Arab Israelis shot dead two police officers using weapons smuggled into the site.
The move sparked Muslim protests and unrest, and last week, amid immense pressure, the Israeli government removed the detectors and cameras. The site includes the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, as well as the Dome of the Rock, and is where the First and Second Jewish Temples stood.
The clashes had left five Palestinians dead. A week after the Temple Mount terror attack, a Palestinian terrorist broke into a home in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank and stabbed three members of a single family to death while they were having Shabbat dinner. In a Facebook post hours before his murderous spree, the terrorist cited the events surrounding the Temple Mount as a main motivator.
A joint communique issued after the OIC gathering said the meeting “strongly condemns Israel’s recent provocative actions” at the holy site.
It accused the Jewish state of “employing collective punishment measures and the use of lethal and excessive force against peaceful Palestinian worshipers” at the site.
Despite the Israeli climbdown on the metal detectors, the OIC statement accused the government of “persistent public statements… that incite religious sensitivities, feed tension and incite violence.”
It urged world powers not to support or encourage Israel’s “illegal colonization and annexation” of East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in 1967 and over which it later extended its sovereignty over.
‘Could get nasty again’
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki told the meeting that Israel’s removal of the detectors was a “small victory in the long battle for freedom.”
But he accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of seeking to change the longstanding agreement whereby only Muslims are allowed to pray at the Temple Mount, although anyone can visit, including Jews.
“Netanyahu will try again to impose his status quo and we should prepare for the next round, which could come very soon and be very nasty,” he added.
Netanyahu has repeatedly declared that Israel has no intention of changing the status quo at the site, most recently just hours after the deadly July 14 assault at the holy compound.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said it was time Muslim countries started to help the Palestinians “not just with words but with actions.”
“We must act to protect the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Palestine,” he said. He reaffirmed a call made by Erdogan on all Muslims to visit Jerusalem.
In its statement, the OIC accused the Israeli government of “neither (being) committed to peace nor interested in the two-state solution,” saying its actions were the “most dangerous threat to the prospects of peace.”
Last year Turkey and Israel ended a rift triggered by Israel’s deadly storming in 2010 of a Gaza-bound ship seeking to violate the Israeli blockade of the Strip that left 10 Turkish activists dead. The two sides have since embarked on a close energy cooperation venture to pipe Israeli gas to Turkey.
But Erdogan, who considers himself a champion of the Palestinian cause, is still often critical of Israeli policy. His comments on the Temple Mount have been among his toughest on Israel since the reconciliation deal.