Egypt's Sissi Says Al-Aqsa Unrest Threatens Regional Stability

Egyptian president accuses Israel of shirking its responsibility to protect holy Muslim sites; Kerry: All parties need to refrain from incitement.

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Israeli Border Police arrest a Palestinian youth during clashes in the Shoafat refugee camp of East Jerusalem, September 18, 2015.
Israeli Border Police arrest a Palestinian youth during clashes in the Shoafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, September 18, 2015.Credit: AFP
Jack Khoury
Barak Ravid

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi said Saturday that the unrest in Jerusalem is threatening stability in the region and the world, and accused Israel of shirking its responsibility to protect holy Muslim sites.

"The daily incidents at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem are a breach of the status quo," Sissi said at a press conference with European Council President Donald Tusk. He asserted that the escalating violence is "a failure of the government of Israel" which is "shirking its responsibility under international law to protect the holy places."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, said that order needs to be restored in Jerusalem, and on Temple Mount in particular. "We are urging everybody to keep the calm, to keep the peace, to adhere to the status quo," Kerry said after meeting British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in London on Saturday.

He added that in his conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, the latter said that Israel is committed to maintaining the status quo and preventing any incident that will stir further unrest. "All parties need to refrain from incitement," Kerry said.   

Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces continued in East Jerusalem on Friday. Three Israeli Border Police officers sustained light to moderate wounds and a Palestinian was moderately to seriously hurt during an operation in East Jerusalem's Jabal Mukaber neighborhood. Clashes also broke out in several areas in the West Bank on Friday. The Palestinians reported that at least 20 were hurt. 

Sissi said that he is following the developments "which without a doubt constitute serious harm to places holy to Islam, requiring the attention of the international community.”

The Egyptian president added that "harm caused to these places will lead to escalation that will have serious implications for peace and stability, not only for the Palestinians or the Israelis but for the entire region and the world."

He further stated that the recent incidents point to the Palestinians' frustration over a lack of diplomatic progress that would give them hope for the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, "in accordance with the principles of the international community and the two-state principle."

The Egyptian president called on the Israeli government to prevent further escalation.

Sissi joins several state leaders in addressing the violence in Jerusalem. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed concern over the situation in a meeting with Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog in London on Friday. 

In recent days Kerry has received phone calls from several Arab foreign ministers demanding that the U.S. intervene and press Israel vis-à-vis the developments on Temple Mount.

On Thursday, Saudi King Salman Abdul Aziz spoke by phone with President Barack Obama, urging him to interfere in “the Israeli attacks.”

The unrest was also the focus of a conversation between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Pope Francis on Thursday.

According to the WAFA news agency, Abbas briefed the pope on what he termed “Israeli aggression” in the city, warning that it is liable to ignite a dangerous religious conflict. Abbas asked the pope to raise the issue in his meetings with senior American officials during his visit to the U.S. next week, WAFA reported.

WAFA said the pope expressed deep concern over what is happening and promised to raise the issue at his meetings in the United States.

Earlier in the week, Jordan's King Abdullah II made strong declarations against Israel, and even sent a warning over the future of Israel-Jordan ties. "Any more provocations in Jerusalem will affect the relationship between Jordan and Israel; and Jordan will have no choice, but to take action, unfortunately," he said.

Israel has been passing messages to Jordan to calm tensions, both directly and via the U.S. government. Senior officials in Jerusalem said that Israel told Jordan it has no intention of making any change to the status quo at the holy site, and said that the Palestinians are spreading lies on this issue. 

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