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The Palestinian government has called on its “fighters” to launch a “day of rage” against Israel on Friday that will include armed attacks in Jerusalem, a move that has sparked fears that widespread riots could wreak havoc on the holy city.
Israeli authorities shut down access to Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque late Wednesday following the shooting of a Jewish citizen by Palestinian terrorists.
Israel’s call to block access to the Temple Mount area of Jerusalem’s Old City—the first such closure since 1967—led the Palestinian government to call for armed resistance and accuse Israel of declaring war.
“Fatah calls to its fighters and to the masses of the Palestinian people to aid the Al-Aqsa Mosque and occupied Jerusalem,” the Palestinians’ main political party said in a statement published Thursday and translated by Palestinian Media Watch (PMW).
“The movement called to set tomorrow as a day of rage throughout the homeland and in countries which are home to refugees, to express the Palestinian people’s opposition to any attack on the holy places and foremost among them the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” the statement said. “Consider desecration of Al-Aqsa as a declaration of a religious war against the Palestinian people and the Arab Islamic nations.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also escalated tensions on Thursday by accusing Israel of declaring war on the Palestinian people.
“This dangerous Israeli escalation is a declaration of war on the Palestinian people and its sacred places and on the Arab and Islamic nation,” Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina quoted the leader as saying in comments made to the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency.
“We hold the Israeli government responsible for this dangerous escalation in Jerusalem that has reached its peak through the closure of the Al-Aqsa mosque this morning,” Abbas reportedly said.
The call for a new war on Israel comes just two months after Israel launched a major military operation in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip after terrorists stepped up rocket attacks on the Jewish state.
Middle East analysts expressed great concern about the situation and said that Abbas’s rhetoric could spark renewed violence in Jerusalem, a city that has experienced relative calm for quite some time.
“There is a very unique phenomenon we’re observing right now, unlike anything we’ve seen before,” said Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).
“There really does appear to be a movement that is trying to win hearts and minds and to get people riled up,” said Schanzer, explaining that Palestinian activists in the Temple Mount area are reportedly stoking tensions against Israel.
“Usually, the West Bank or Gaza set the tone for conflicts with Israel. This time, Jerusalem Arabs are leading the charge,” Schanzer explained.
Abbas’ comments accusing Israel of declaring war via its closure of the Temple Mount could make an already volatile situation even worse.
“Abbas is taking a potentially combustible situation and pouring gasoline on it,” Schanzer said.
While hostilities in Jerusalem have been simmering since the July killing of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir—whose abduction came just days after the murder of three Israeli kids by Hamas—Wednesday’s attack on the Temple Mount appears to have sparked fears of a new intifada.
Al-Aqsa was sealed off by Israeli police following an attack on Jewish activist and Rabbi Yehuda Glick, who remains in critical condition.
The Palestinian government and its allies have used the closure to accuse Israel of trying to eradicate Muslim holy sites such as Al-Aqsa. Some officials have even called it a “conspiracy,” according to the Palestinian media.
Jordanian diplomat Hael Abd-el Hafiz Daud reportedly called the move “a dangerous escalation by the Israeli authorities and state terrorism that is unacceptable.”
“We cannot keep quiet about it,” Daud was reported to have said.
FDD’s Schanzer said that tensions are high going into Friday.
“We could be on the brink, but lets not declare war on behalf of the Palestinians,” he said.
The government-sanctioned calls for violence also come just days after tensions between the Israeli and U.S. administration reached historic new highs.
Obama administration officials were quoted as calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “chickenshit,” comments that roiled both governments and exposed a deep rift.
Noah Pollak, executive director of the pro-Israel Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI), said that the Obama administration is abetting Palestinian violence.
“What adds fuel to the fire is the Obama administration’s endless hostility to Israel and refusal to ever criticize the Palestinians for incitement and anti-Semitism,” Pollak said. “Mahmoud Abbas instigates violence; Obama responds by calling him a man of peace.”