ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 148

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Herzog sends Ramadan greetings to Arab leaders amid tensions over Smotrich speech

President wishes Muslim leaders ‘peace, happiness and health,’ days after finance minister sparks uproar by saying Palestinian people are ‘an invention’

President Isaac Herzog meets his new UAE counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan to pay his condolences on the passing of the Gulf state's late leader Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, May 15, 2022. (President's Office)
President Isaac Herzog meets his new UAE counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan to pay his condolences on the passing of the Gulf state's late leader Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, May 15, 2022. (President's Office)

President Isaac Herzog reached out to Muslim leaders around the world on Tuesday ahead of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, extending his wishes for “peace, happiness and health” during the holiday, as the hardline Israeli government continued to stoke tensions with its Arab neighbors.

Herzog’s office said he spoke with Middle East leaders including King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain,United Arab Emirates President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has repeatedly taken actions that have angered Arab countries, including those that have formal ties with Jerusalem.

Israel’s Arab neighbors have criticized the government for National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount, deadly IDF anti-terror raids in the West Bank, advancement of settlement construction and outpost legalization and other issues.

In the most recent major incident, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said on Sunday that the Palestinian people are an “invention” while standing behind a map of “Greater Israel” that included modern-day Jordan. The statement fueled an escalating diplomatic spat with Jordan, which summoned Israel’s envoy in Amman on Monday over the incident.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said Smotrich’s remarks were further evidence of what he called the “racist ideology” governing Israel.

The Palestinian Authority and Jordan also condemned the passage of legislation on Tuesday that rolled back parts of a law that authorized the evacuation of four northern West Bank settlements in 2005.

Other foreign allies and world bodies have condemned the recent incidents including the US, the European Union, the United Nations and Saudi Arabia.

Palestinian Muslim worshipers pray on Laylat al-Qadr, Night of Destiny, in the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on April 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Beyond the Middle East, Herzog sent Ramadan wishes to the leaders of Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Albania, Senegal and Kosovo.

“In his phone calls with [the] leaders, the president expressed his hopes for peace and stability in the region and wished them and their peoples a Ramadan that will bring them peace, happiness, and health,” Herzog’s office said.

Herzog also sent festive letters to the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi, in which he wrote: “The blessed month of Ramadan celebrates values that are very close to my heart. These values—of love for one’s neighbor, charity and support for the weak, and tolerant discourse—are core values that I promote all year round.”

“As you embark upon this month, I pray that we can take shared steps down the path of peace together in the coming year too,” Herzog said.

Herzog posted a similar message in Arabic to his Twitter account emphasizing his desire for the advancement of regional peace in the coming year.

Ramadan, during which Muslims fast from sun up to sun down, begins this Thursday and will finish on April 21.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report

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