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Palestinian Authority leader Abbas freezes relations with Israel over Jerusalem shrine crisis

ABBAS Momani, AFP | Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas speaks at a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah on July 21.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas said Friday that he was freezing relations with Israel over controversial new security measures erected at a sensitive Jerusalem holy site after deadly clashes erupted earlier in the day.


Abbas said in a speech to the Palestinian leadership that the freeze would stay in place until Israel lifted the extra security measures at the Haram al-Sharif mosque compound, which Jews refer to as the Temple Mount.

"I, on behalf of the Palestinian leadership, announce... a freeze of all contacts with the occupation state on all levels until Israel commits to cancelling all the measures against our Palestinian people in general and Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa mosque in particular," Abbas said, to applause from Palestinian officials.

Deadly clashes erupted earlier in the day between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces outside Jerusalem's Old City as tensions escalated over new metal detectors installed at the site after two Israeli policeman were shot in the area last week.

Abbas called the measures "falsely presented as a security measure to take control over Al-Aqsa mosque".

The Palestinian health ministry said three Palestinians had been killed in the fighting on Friday. The Palestinian Red Crescent reported that 391 people had also been wounded in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Three Israelis were stabbed to death in a West Bank settlement late on Friday, Israel's army said.

Israeli police made 29 arrests in Jerusalem and the West Bank and said five officers had been slightly injured after coming under attack with stones and fireworks.

Restricted access

The shrine sits at the centre of rival Israeli and Palestinian national narratives and has triggered major confrontations in the past. The raised 37-acre (15-hectare) platform in Jerusalem houses the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. It is the third-holiest site of the Islamic faith, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. The compound is Judaism's holiest site.

Israeli ministers said Friday that the metal detectors would remain at the entrance to the Haram al-Sharif mosque compound indefinitely. In anticipation of protests, Israeli police barred men under 50 from entering Jerusalem's Old City for prayers while women were allowed in.

Muslim leaders had urged the faithful not to enter the sacred compound until Israel removed the devices, characterising the new security measures as an encroachment on Muslim rights, a charge Israel denies.

The city's top Muslim cleric, Mohammed Hussein, told worshippers that he expects a "long battle of wills" with Israel.

Jersualem clashes - FRANCE24's Irris Makler

Shin Bet (Israel’s security service) has argued against the metal detectors, Israeli media reported, warning that they could lead to outbreaks of violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The dispute over the detectors has led to rising tensions between Israel and the Muslim world. Jordan, the custodian of the Jerusalem shrine, has repeatedly appealed to Israel to remove them. The two countries cooperate closely on regional security issues, but frequently disagree on Israel's policies at the shrine.

'If Al-Aqsa goes, we lose everything'

On Friday, thousands of worshippers gathered in the streets near the compound, laying out their prayer mats under a scorching sun as volunteers distributed water.

Jerusalem resident Hashem Abu Diab, 60, led the crowd at Lion's Gate in chants of "Allahu Akbar," or "God is Great," before noon prayers, the highlight of the Muslim religious week.

Abu Diab said the dispute has united Jerusalem's Palestinians, who consider the compound their last sanctuary from Israel's 50-year occupation of the eastern part of the city.

"The Al-Aqsa Mosque is the last place we have in this country," he said. "If Al-Aqsa goes, we lose everything. We don't leave until they remove the metal detectors."

Israeli police said in a statement that the metal detectors would remain in place but suggested that police may at times choose only to conduct spot checks.

"Israeli police can decide on the level of checks," said police spokeswoman Luba Samri.

Abbas earlier asked the United States to "intervene urgently" and compel Israel to remove metal detectors, according to Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh.

Abbas discussed the growing tensions in Jerusalem in a phone call with US President Trump's top adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Abu Rudeineh said, with Abbas warning that the situation is "extremely dangerous and may go out of control".

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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