UN chief warns of religious war as PM says Abbas ‘fanning the flames’
On snap visit to Jerusalem, Ban Ki-moon cautions against misuse of force and slams ‘heinous attacks’ on Israelis
In Jerusalem on a snap visit to the region after weeks of Israeli-Palestinian violence, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday warned of an escalation “into a religious conflict with potential regional implications” and urged both sides to make efforts to ensure this did not transpire.
Speaking as he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Ban also told reporters that “security measures can be counterproductive if they are applied without special efforts to defuse the situation before people lose their lives.”
Any misuse of force, he said, “may breed the very frustrations and anxieties from which violence” can erupt.
Israeli security forces have bitterly denied accusations of excessive force against Palestinians in the current wave of violence, which has seen 10 Israelis killed and dozens wounded in terror attacks since mid-September. More than 40 Palestinians have died either carrying out attacks or during violent clashes with Israeli security forces.
Videos of Israeli security forces and civilians shooting the Palestinian terrorists who were attacking them, some of the clips spuriously edited and spread online, have helped feed anger, with Palestinians viewing some of the incidents as unjustified.
Netanyahu strongly rejected such accusations.
“Israel is acting as any democracy would to defend its citizens,” he said. “We are not — I repeat — we are not using excessive force.
“I believe it is time to tell the truth about the causes of Palestinian terrorism. It is not the settlements, it is not the peace process, it is the desire to destroy the State of Israel pure and simple.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is “fanning the flames” of the violence, Netanyahu said, and again accused him of incitement.
“President Abbas has not condemned a single one of the 30 terrorist attacks against Israelis over the last month and he continues to glorify the terrorists as heroes,” the prime minister said.
Netanyahu also rejected claims that Israel is planning to change the arrangements on the Temple Mount, a site holy to Jews and Muslims where Jews can visit but not pray.
“In recent weeks Israelis have been deliberately run over, shot, stabbed and hacked to death, and in large part this is because President Abbas has joined ISIS and Hamas in claiming that Israel threatens the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” he said. “This, Mr. Secretary, is a total lie. Israel vigorously protects the holy sites of all faiths. We keep the status quo.
“The Palestinians, by contrast, are the ones who violate the status quo. Palestinians have brought explosives into Al-Aqsa Mosque. That’s a violation of the status quo. They try violently to prevent Jews and Christians from visiting the Mount. That’s another violation of the status quo.”
Ban also acknowledged the security challenges facing Israel in the face of a wave of Palestinian knife, gun and car attacks, while condemning militant groups who have expressed support for them.
“Over the past weeks I have been deeply troubled by statements from Palestinian militant groups including Hamas and Islamic Jihad praising such heinous attacks,” he said.
“In a recent call with President Abbas I voiced my deep concern over instances of inflammatory rhetoric… I have also condemned the arson attack last week, and I welcome Abbas’ condemnation of that,” Ban added.
“I want to first of all express my sympathy for the loss of life and injury of victims. Allow me to express my deepest condolences to you and the people Israel for the killing of your citizens. I deplore the random attacks against the civilians,” he said. “I understand the pain and anger felt by many Israel in the current environment.”
UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Tuesday that Ban wants to determine if Israeli and Palestinian leaders are willing to return to negotiations on a two-state solution.
He told reporters this is what the UN chief and other members of the so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators — including the US, EU and Russia — have been encouraging.
Haq said Ban’s ideas on the way forward were laid out in his video message to the Israeli and Palestinian people: “stand firm against terror, violence and incitement,” preserve the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites, and demand progress for a political solution.
He said the recent violence, and fears of walking the streets, “should once again tell people that this is the time to go back and pursue peace.”