Monday, February 27, 2012

Netanyahu slams Abbas on east Jerusalem comments

Daniel Siryoti, Shlomo Cesana, Israel Hayom Staff and News Agencies

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sharply rebukes Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after he accuses Israel of trying to erase the Arab, Muslim and Christian character of east Jerusalem and intending to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque • Israel expects Abbas to “prepare his people for peace and co-existence and not disseminate lies and incitement,” Netanyahu says • During conference in Doha, Qatari ruler urges U.N.-backed investigation into Israeli settlements. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ recent comments on Jerusalem were “harshly inflammatory” and “baseless,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday, in a sharp rebuke of the Palestinian leader.

Speaking at a conference on Jerusalem in the Qatari capital of Doha earlier Sunday, Abbas said that for the past few years Israel had been waging a “final battle” aimed at erasing the Arab, Muslim and Christian character of east Jerusalem. He charged that Israel intended to destroy Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits atop the remains of the two biblical Jewish temples. The area is the most sacred site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam, and is a highly sensitive and emotional issue for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Abbas said that through settlement building in the West Bank and Jerusalem, Israel was carrying out an “ethnic cleansing, in every sense, against the Palestinian residents in order to turn them into minorities in their own city.” He called on “all Muslims and Arabs around the world to come visit Israel,” saying that these visits would not mark “normalization” with Israel.

In response to Abbas’ remarks, Netanyahu said, “This is a harshly inflammatory speech from someone who claims that he is bent on peace. The time has come for the Palestinian leadership to stop denying the past and distorting reality.”

“For thousands of years Jerusalem has been the eternal capital of the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said. “Jerusalem, under Israeli sovereignty, will continue to be open to believers of all faiths. There is freedom of worship for all and Israel will continue to carefully maintain the holy places of all religions.”

The prime minister concluded, “[Abbas] knows full well that there is no foundation to his contemptible remarks, including his baseless and irresponsible claims regarding the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The state of Israel expects that one who supposedly champions peace would prepare his people for peace and co-existence and not disseminate lies and incitement. This is not how one makes peace.”

Tensions have been high in Jerusalem and surrounding areas. Israeli police clashed with Palestinian stone throwers over the weekend in the West Bank and at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The violence began on Friday when hundreds of Palestinians threw stones at police and IDF forces at the Temple Mount. Other clashes also broke out in the West Bank, near the Qalandia checkpoint, Hebron, and in the village of al-Ram near Jerusalem. In al-Ram, IDF forces shot and killed 25-year-old Talat Ramia after he hurled exploding fireworks at them. Palestinian youths recently began using exploding fireworks to rattle — and potentially injure — Israeli forces.

Sunday’s conference in Doha was also attended by Arab Knesset members Ahmed Tibi, Ibrahim Sarsur and Taleb el-Sana from the United Arab List-Ta’al party, and Hanin Zoabi and Jamal Zahalka of the Balad party.

In an interview with the Qatari state news agency, Ahmed Tibi also accused Israel of Judaizing Jerusalem by imposing restrictions on the Arab population. “The occupying Israeli regime is preventing Palestinians from going to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and prevents the Palestinians’ freedom of worship,” he said. “The Judaization of Jerusalem is a flagrant violation of international law.”

Qatar’s ruler, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who also spoke during the conference, said the Arab identity in Jerusalem was threatened by Israeli expansion around the city .

Thani urged a U.N.-backed investigation into Israeli settlements as well as Israeli actions in predominantly Arab districts in Jerusalem and surrounding areas captured by Israel in 1967.

The emir also pledged support for Palestinian reconciliation between rivals Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Qatar hosted talks earlier this month that led to a Palestinian unity accord.

Officials in Jerusalem meanwhile protested the participation of U.N. Middle East envoy Robert Serry at the Doha conference.

“We are baffled by Serry’s undiplomatic behavior,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said on Sunday. “Not only does he often ignore rocket fire from Gaza and express firm determination in his condemnation of the planning committee regarding housing plans in Jerusalem, but this time he has gone too far, he has gone and given official U.N. approval to the [Qatar] conference by actually participating in this Arab League conference whose declared intention is to demonize Israel and deny the Jewish people’s history. This disrespectful behavior is below the expectations of a senior diplomat in [Serry’s] rank. Instead of building bridges he is burning them and is acting against the guidelines set by the U.N. secretary-general.“

In related news, a explosive device exploded on Sunday night near the security barrier in the West Bank town of Qabia, near Ramallah. No injuries or damages were reported. The device included a gas balloon and was apparently placed inside a tire connected to explosives. It is suspected that the intended targets of the bomb were Israeli soldiers on routine operations in the area. However, the bomb apparently went off ahead of schedule.

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