Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday that Israel was letting Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem become "contaminated" and accused the Israeli government of sparking a “devastating religious war” in the region.
“Keep the extremist settlers away from the Al-Aqsa mosque and our holy places. Don't let the our holy sites be contaminated, keep them from us and we will stay away from them,” Abbas said, according to Israel's Ynet News. The Al-Aqsa mosque, located at what Jews call the Temple Mount, is a holy spot for both religions and has been a site of clashes in recent weeks.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a ceremony marking 10 years since the death of leader Yasser Arafat, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Nov. 11, 2014. (Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)
Abbas, speaking at a ceremony in Ramallah to mark the 10-year anniversary of Yasser Arafat's death, warned against efforts being spearheaded by some right-wing Israeli politicians and Jewish activists to allow Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, which is the holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest in Islam. Israeli regulations allow Jewish visitors to ascend to the Temple Mount, but not to visibly pray there.
"Israel's leaders are making a huge mistake if they think they can now establish facts on the ground and divide prayer times at the Al-Aqsa mosque as they did at the Cave of the Patriarchs," Abbas said, referring to the Jewish and Muslim holy site in Hebron. "By doing these things they are leading the region and the world into a devastating religious war."
Denying any Jewish historical claims to Jerusalem, Abbas said, "The Muslim and Christian world will never accept Israeli claims that Jerusalem is theirs."
“Jerusalem is our capital and we will never give this up. Jerusalem that was occupied in 1967 is our Jerusalem. We will safeguard and protect our holy places,” the Palestinian president said.
Abbas at first appeared to reject even Israeli claims to west Jerusalem, which has been part of internationally recognized Israeli territory since 1948.
“No one will accept that Jerusalem is the capital of anything but the state of Palestine,” Abbas said. The Times of Israel reported that he later clarified he meant the part of Jerusalem that Israel captured during the 1967 war.
Muslim worshippers have harassed Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount, as documented in videos and eyewitness reports, and Israeli officials have accused radical Islamic activists of paying Palestinians to be present on the holy site and keep up the pressure on visiting Jews. Abbas praised the activists and called them “guardians” who “protect” the holy places.
Reacting to Abbas' speech, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called Abbas a “Jew-hater.”
"On the 10-year anniversary of Arafat's death, we see that there is no difference between Arafat and Abu Mazen (Abbas). They are both Jew-haters that believe in terror and promote terror," Liberman said, according to Arutz Sheva. "The only difference is that Abu Mazen is more dangerous, because he knows how to hide his true face better."
Israel has been gripped by weeks of Palestinian terrorist attacks, including intentional vehicular assaults, stabbings and the shooting of a rabbi known for supporting the rights of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon warned Tuesday there could be a further escalation in violence.
“We must prepare for the possibility of escalation, and that is why we are reinforcing the forces,” Yaalon said. “The Palestinian Authority is operating on the ground in an attempt to calm the spirits, but various statements, including those made by the Authority chairman, bring about the grave actions.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his security cabinet Tuesday to address the deteriorating security situation.