Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called "baseless and irresponsible" the Palestinian leader's charge yesterday that Israel was trying to erase any Arab identity from Jerusalem. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused the Israelis of ethnic cleansing, one of the remarks Netanyahu characterized as incitement.

Abbas, speaking at a conference in Qatar, said that for the past few years Israel has been waging a "final battle" aimed at erasing the Arab, Muslim and Christian character of East Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan during the Six-Day War. Netanyahu called Abbas' remarks "a harshly inflammatory speech from someone who claims that he is bent on peace."

"[Abbas] knows full well that there is no foundation to his contemptible remarks, including his baseless and irresponsible claims regarding the Al Aqsa Mosque," Netanyahu's office said in a statement.

Netanyahu, who opposes dividing the city, said that Jerusalem has been the "eternal capital for the Jewish people" for thousands of years. He said Israel would continue to maintain the city's holy sites and freedom of worship for all.

Abbas said that through settlement building in the West Bank and Jerusalem, Israel was carrying out "ethnic cleansing in every sense against the Palestinian residents in order to turn them into minorities in their own city."

Abbas compared Israeli rule in Jerusalem to the Roman and Crusader rule over the city. He also questioned that the Temple ever existed, accused Israel of trying to damage the Al-Aqsa Mosque and called on Arabs and Muslims to protect the holy city.

"When one visits a prisoner in jail it is by no means a sign of normalization with the warders, but a victory for the prisoner," Abbas said, adding that that territory "will remain Arab in heart, spirit and soul despite the ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians."

Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, called on the United Nations to "investigate the measures Israel has taken to Judaize Jerusalem since its occupation in 1967."

Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank has proved one of the thorniest issues dividing Israel and the Palestinians.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque looms large in the rival narratives of Israelis and Palestinians, and any perceived attempt to change the delicate division of control there quickly sets off protests.

Violence erupted Friday after Muslim noon prayers when hundreds of worshippers protested the rumored plans by far-right activists to enter the shrine.

The rumor was false, the Israel Police said. One Palestinian was killed, and 11 Israeli police officers were injured in violence related to the site over the weekend.