Israeli PM slams Palestinian leader's speech

February 26, 2012 - 6:05 PM
Mideast Israel Palestinians

Palestinian women attend a rally in solidarity with Jerusalem, in Gaza City, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012, following the clashes erupted between Palestinians and Israeli police at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound during the weekend. Dome of the Rock Mosque shown in picture. (AP photo/Hatem Moussa)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for making an "inflammatory speech" about Jerusalem's most sensitive holy site on Sunday, saying his words undermine peace efforts.

Speaking during a visit to Qatar, Abbas charged that Israel was intending to destroy Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits atop the remains of the two biblical Jewish temples. It is the most sacred site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam. The site is a very sensitive and emotional issue for Israelis and Palestinians.

"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 said. "This is a harshly inflammatory speech from someone who claims that he is bent on peace."

"The time has come for the Palestinian leadership to stop denying the past and distorting reality," he said.

Netanyahu stressed in his comments that all faiths have freedom of worship in Jerusalem.

The shrine 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 there 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 according to Israeli police.

One Palestinian was killed, and 11 Israeli police officers were injured in violence related to the site over the weekend.

Abbas in his speech charged that Israel wanted to build a temple "on the ruins of the Al-Aqsa Mosque." Abbas said this is the "latest battle in the war aimed to erase and remove the character of the Arab-Islamic Jerusalem."

The Palestinian leader was speaking at a conference in the Gulf emirate's capital Doha on Jerusalem.

According to Jewish law a third temple cannot be built until the time of the Messiah. Until that time, most rabbis say, Jews are forbidden from even entering the compound for religious reasons.

Jerusalem is the most sensitive issue at the core of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Peace talks brokered by Jordan have been suspended and it's not clear when they will resume.

Tensions have been brewing at the holy Jerusalem compound for weeks.

Last week Palestinians inside the mosque threw rocks at a group of Christian tourists, and police arrested 18 Palestinians.

In another incident, Palestinians threw rocks at two U.S. Congressmen who were visiting the nearby Mount of Olives along with a delegation that represents major Jewish organizations. Nobody was hurt. Jews have been buried on the Mount of Olives for centuries, including many rabbinical sages and cultural figures. Tombstones have lately been smashed at the site.