With violence and terror attacks continuing to escalate in Israel and the West Bank, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday reiterated praise of the “defenders of Al-Aqsa” on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, stating that he would “strengthen the hand” of those who “defended” the holy site.
Giving mixed signals, Abbas stated: “We will not use violence or force. We believe in peace and in a peaceful popular struggle, and that is our right”. Contradicting this Mr Abbas then stated: “We are strengthening the hands of our brothers who are defending the al-Aqsa Mosque”.
Abbas has faced criticism from Israeli officials for his repeated incendiary rhetoric and failure to condemn terror attacks, which they say has helped to incite violence and raise tensions in Jerusalem and across Israel. In September, on Palestinian television, Abbas declared: “We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem… With the help of Allah, every shaheed (martyr) will be in heaven, and every wounded will get his reward”. In a recent meeting with activists, President Abbas vowed to prevent the “filthy feet” of Jews from “defiling” Temple Mount.
The Temple Mount is holy to Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike, and under a longstanding arrangement administered by Islamic authorities. Jews are allowed to visit the site during certain hours but not to pray there, while Muslims are permitted to visit and pray.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Wednesday that he was banning politicians from entering the holy site of Temple Mount, in order to allay tensions.
In contrast to President Abbas’s divisive rhetoric, Prime Minister Netanyahu on Thursday evening called for unity and pledged to restore calm, following two days of escalating violence across Israel.
Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “This vicious terrorism did not start today. We have always known how to defeat the rioters and build up our country and so it will be now”.
Netanyahu assured the public that the country’s leaders and security forces “are doing our utmost to restore your security and that of your children, to all Israel”.
In October last year, similar clashes took place with Temple Mount as the focal point, and after a week of violence, President Abbas had stoked tensions in Jerusalem by calling Israel’s closure of the sacred temple mount compound tantamount to a “declaration of war”.