Saudi king urges Obama to stop ‘Israeli attacks’ on Temple Mount

In phone call with US president, Salman condemns ‘Israeli escalation,’ calls on Washington to intervene, back UN action

US President Barack Obama with King Salman of Saudi Arabia in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on September 4, 2015. (AFP/Yuri Gripas)
US President Barack Obama with King Salman of Saudi Arabia in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on September 4, 2015. (AFP/Yuri Gripas)

US President Barack Obama spoke by phone with Saudi King Salman bin Abd al Aziz al Saud on regional issues including the recent violence in Jerusalem, the White House said in a statement Thursday without revealing further details.

According to the Saudi Press Agency cited in a report on the Saudi-run al-Arabiya network, however, King Salman expressed to Obama his strong condemnation of the “Israeli escalation” at the Temple Mount compound which has been the site of clashes between Palestinians hurling rocks and firebombs, and Israeli forces in recent days.

The king called on the US president to stop “the Israeli attacks, including intervening with the UN Security Council to protect the Palestinian people,” according to the SPA report cited in Haaretz.

The king is said to have made the same appeal Thursday in calls to UK Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande and Russian President Vladimir Putin

“The Israeli attacks contribute to feeding extremism and violence in the world,” Salman told Obama, according to the report.

Earlier Thursday, Salman appealed to UN chief Ban Ki-moon and members of the Security Council for “urgent measures” after clashes at the Temple Mount and al-Aqsa Mosque, state media reported.

Salman “expressed strong condemnation of the dangerous Israeli escalation” at the holy site where Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli police for three straight days, SPA reported.

“He called for serious and speedy international efforts and for the intervention of the Security Council to take all urgent measures to stop these violations,” it said.

Salman added that the “attack on worshipers” violates the sanctity of religions “and contributes to feeding extremism and violence in the world.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also spoke with the UN chief Thursday, telling him that Israel was working to end the violence.

“Unlike the Palestinian side’s incitement, Israel is taking pains to preserve the status quo,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying in a statement from his office.

He added that Israel would respond aggressively to stone-throwing and firebomb attacks, which have caused the deaths of innocent Israelis.

The US, for its part, condemned “all acts of violence” at the Temple Mount site on Monday and urged for calm.

“The United States is deeply concerned by the recent violence and escalating tensions surrounding the Haram al-Sharif Temple Mount. We strongly condemn all acts of violence,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said, calling on all sides to exercise restraint.

“It is absolutely critical that all sides exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric and preserve unchanged the historic status quo on the Haram al-Sharif Temple Mount, in word and in practice,” Kirby said.

Palestinian women argue with Israeli policemen during a protest against Jewish groups visiting the Temple Mount which houses the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem on September 16, 2015. (AFP/MENAHEM KAHANA)
Palestinian women argue with an Israeli policeman during a protest against Jewish groups visiting the Temple Mount, which houses al-Aqsa Mosque, in Jerusalem on September 16, 2015. (AFP/Menahem Kahana)

The compound is the holiest site in Judaism, which venerates it as the Temple Mount, and the third-holiest site in Islam. Under longstanding regulations, Jews are allowed to visit but cannot pray there to avoid provoking tensions.

King Mohammad VI of Morocco on Thursday joined the growing chorus of Muslim leaders expressing outrage over Israel’s “violations” at the site, and discussed the issue with officials from the Palestinian Authority, Qatar and Jordan, Israel Radio reported.

Muslim protesters fear Israel will seek to change the rules governing the site, with far-right Jewish groups pushing for more access and even efforts by fringe organizations to erect a new temple.

According to the report, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated his previous condemnation of Israel, and warned Jerusalem it was making a very serious mistake that could prove harmful to the entire region. On Tuesday, Erdogan urged the United Nations to act against Israel’s “breach” of the sanctity of the mosque in Jerusalem, and reportedly told the UN chief that Israel’s actions were “unacceptable” and a cause for “serious indignation” in the Muslim world.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel on Wednesday of “waging a fierce and relentless war against us in Jerusalem.” Ahead of an interview with the pan-Arab daily al-Quds al-Arabi on Thursday, Abbas warned that Palestinians would not accept separate access for Jews and Muslims to the Temple Mount.

“Dividing [access to] al-Quds by time or place will not pass,” he said. “Jerusalem is a red line and we will not allow anybody to touch it.”

Israel has not announced such plans, but the PA reportedly believes the government is considering them to prevent recurring violence on the holy site.

Netanyahu has repeatedly said he is committed to maintaining the current “status quo” at the site, but Palestinians remain deeply suspicious.

Overnight Wednesday, police arrested eight Palestinians — including six minors — suspected of involvement in the recent clashes with Israeli security forces. Since Sunday, at least three dozen Palestinian protesters have been detained by Israel, and 14 Israeli police officers were injured by rocks and firecrackers hurled at them by protesters.

The clashes began Sunday morning, with security forces seizing pipe bombs at the site in an operation carried out hours before Jews prepared to celebrate the Jewish New Year. The Shin Bet security service alerted police to the cache, apparently an effort by Palestinians to stock up on bombs, flares and rocks ahead of an organized riot.

The police said its forces had entered the site after protesters began throwing stones and firecrackers at the Mughrabi Gate, the access point for non-Muslim visitors to the site. Police said that protesters had wedged open a door to the mosque, which officers had later closed, allowing visits to the Temple Mount to continue as scheduled.

The UN, US and EU have urged restraint on both sides amid the latest clashes, while Jordan, which has custodianship rights over Muslim holy places in Jerusalem under its 1994 peace treaty with Israel, has warned that bilateral relations are at stake.

Meanwhile, Israel was gearing up for another day of violence Friday after noon prayers.

Police said they would prohibit the entry of men under 40 to the compound after receiving intelligence reports indicating “young Arabs” planned to disrupt the peace during Muslim Friday prayers at the site, a spokesperson said.

Women of all ages will be allowed on the esplanade.

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