Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ comments about erasing the Arabic identity of Jerusalem inflammatory and contemptible, according to Reuters.
Speaking at a conference in Qatar, Abbas said the 1967 annexations of Arab East Jerusalem by Israel “are null and void. East Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Palestine,” according to AFP.
He also charged that Israel intended to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits above the remains of two Jewish temples in Jerusalem, according to the Associated Press. The site is the most sacred in Judaism, and the third holiest in Islam, making it a flashpoint between the two religions. Abbas called the site the "latest battle in the war aimed to erase and remove the character of the Arab-Islamic Jerusalem."
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The statement from Netanyahu’s office in response to Abbas’ comments said, “This was a speech of severe incitement coming from the mouth of someone who supposedly claims that he seeks peace,” according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
The statement continued, “Under Israeli sovereignty, Jerusalem will continue to be open to members of all faiths. There is complete freedom of worship for everyone and Israel will continue to devotedly protect the holy places of all religions.”
On Feb. 24, Israeli police clashed with stone-throwing Palestinian protesters after Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy sites, according to the AP. The heightened tensions were reportedly due to rumors circulating among Palestinians that far right Israelis were attempting to gain access to the holy site.
The Israeli police said the rumors were false.
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