Both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority issued statements criticizing Foreign Minister Yair Lapid for paying a visit to the flashpoint Damascus Gate in Jerusalem on Sunday.
Amid a rise in deadly terrorist attacks and tensions across Israel and the West Bank at the start of Ramadan, Lapid toured the area around the Old City’s Damascus Gate with Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and other officials and lawmakers. “This is a difficult, tense period, but we have a police [force] that can be relied on to get us through this complex period,” Lapid said, adding: “We give you full backing.”
Israel captured the Old City and East Jerusalem from its Jordanian occupiers in 1967, annexed the area and considers it to be part of sovereign Israel. The Palestinians seek the area as the capital of an independent Palestinian state.
The PA Foreign Ministry “condemns in the strongest terms the provocative incursion by Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in the Bab al-Amud [Damascus Gate] area in occupied Jerusalem, and strongly condemns the promises he made to Jewish extremists to deploy more occupation forces and police in Jerusalem under the pretext of providing protection for them during the Jewish holidays,” the ministry wrote in a statement on its website Sunday night.
According to the PA statement, Lapid was “inciting against the Palestinians… as if there are only Jewish holidays… in complete disregard for the existence of Muslim and Christian holidays, and in denial of the fact that it is the Jewish extremists who attack the Christian and Islamic sanctities and their followers.”
Lapid’s visit surrounded by police officers is “conclusive proof that he is an occupier and is afraid to walk on occupied land,” the statement concluded.
According to Hebrew media reports, Hamas called Lapid’s visit a “dangerous escalation and provocation.”
“We and our people have pledged to defend Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa by force and by all means at our disposal,” the terror group added.
Joint List MK Sami Abou Shahadeh also condemned Lapid’s visit, accusing him of “adding fuel to the fire.”
“The competition between all the Zionist parties in recent days has come to satisfy the instinct and desire of the masses for revenge and blood,” tweeted Abou Shahadeh, head of the opposition Joint List’s Balad faction. “This is a dangerous policy that can burn down the whole region,” he said, adding that the current government — including Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas — “bears full responsibility for all developments.”
Hours after Lapid’s visit, 10 Palestinians were arrested in clashes with security forces at Damascus Gate, with at least one police officer and 14 Palestinians wounded, according to reports. The previous night, four Palestinians were arrested at the site during rioting.
Over the past two weeks, 11 people have been killed in terrorist attacks across Israel in three separate incidents in Beersheba, Hadera and Bnei Brak. With the onset of Ramadan and the approach of Passover, officials have warned that tensions could continue to escalate.
On Sunday, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry condemned “the Israeli escalation in the Palestinian territories in recent days,” citing in particular recent visits by Jews to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry added that “escalation must be avoided — especially during the holy month of Ramadan and Christian and Jewish holidays — so as to not slip into cycles of violence.”
Also on Sunday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke with Jordanian King Abdullah in a conversation that emphasized lowering tensions and securing calm in the region.
During the call, the king underlined “the importance of achieving calm in order to avoid any escalation in the Palestinian territories,” a statement from the royal court said.
Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.