Abbas: Closure of Al-Aqsa Amounts to 'Declaration of War'

Israeli PM holds Palestinian president responsible for incitement and calls to ban Jews from holy site; closure of holy site follows assassination attempt on Jewish right-wing activist and terror attack in Jerusalem.

Israel policemen at one of the entrances to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City, October 30,
Israel policemen at one of the entrances to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City, October 30, 2014. Emil Salman

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issued a harsh response to the closure of the Al Aqsa Mosque Thursday morning.

"Harming the places sacred to Muslims and Christians is a red line," said Abbas' spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh, adding that he would "not permit this line to be crossed."

At the Western Wall, October 30, 2014.
Olivier Fitoussi

Rudeineh said the Israeli government bears responsibility for the escalation in Jerusalem. "The state of Palestine," he said, will use all measures available to it in international law to bring Israel to account and to halt the aggression.

Abu Rudeineh also appealed to the international community to take steps to stop what he called "Israeli aggression," saying its continuation amounts to a "declaration of war" on the Palestinian people and the Arab and Islamic nation.

Jerusalem was put under high alert Wednesday night after an assassination attempt on a Jewish right-wing activist. In addition, the Temple Mount was completely closed off for the first time since former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited the site in September 2000. The suspected assailant was shot dead Thursday morning when Israeli security forces tried to arrest him, according to the Shin Bet security services and Israel Police.

Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino said Thursday that "the sequence of events, which are serious, doesn't come close to an intifada. It's not possible. Those headlines don't contribute anything and we are obliged to reinstate security to Jerusalem."

Danino called on politicians not to come out with declarations on the issue, adding that the police will decide whether to open Temple Mount for prayers today after evaluating the situation. The decision will be made with an eye to reinstate the routine on Temple Mount, he said.

"The closing of Al Aqsa is a dangerous decision and a provocation to the entire Muslim world," Arab MK Ahmed Tibi said in front of the entrance to Al Aqsa Mosque. "The Western Wall has not been closed. Synagogues are not being closed. The prime minister is pushing toward a religious war and exacerbating the ferment and anger in East Jerusalem."

Tibi came to the Lion's Gate along with Mufti Mohammed Hussein and the head of the waqf, as well as Sheikh Abu Dabes, head of the southern Islamic Movement.

Interior Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich said hundreds of police have been sent into Jerusalem as reinforcements since the morning, in addition to the already bolstered forces that have been operating in the city since the attack on the Light Rail last week in which pedestrians were mowed down by a Palestinian terrorist in a car.

Prime Minister Netanyahu convened a meeting to assess the situation of escalating violence in Jerusalem and the attempt on Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick's life, and issued a call for calm in the city. "First of all, the flames must be lowered," Netanyahu said. "No one on either side should take the law into his own hands. We need to act now with cool heads, responsibility and determination, and that is what we shall do."

At the meeting, Netanyahu criticized Abbas, accusing him of being responsible for the escalation in the city. "We're facing a wave of incitement by radical Islamic elements as well as by the Palestinian Authority chairman ... who said that Jews must absolutely be prevented from going on to the Temple Mount," Netanyahu said.

"I've yet to hear a single word from the international community condemning these words of incitement. The international community must end its hypocrisy and act against the inciters, those who are trying to change the status quo," he added.

Netanyahu also said that he had ordered significant reinforcements be brought into the capital, including measures to maintain security in Jerusalem and to maintain the status quo at the Holy places.

Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino called for calm, adding, "All the necessary means will be allotted and the investigation will be intensive and determined."