'Old City violence may lead to 3rd intifada'

Fatah official to Post

October 7, 2009 09:10

ss. (photo credit: s)

Recent violence in the capital and the ongoing tensions surrounding the Temple Mount could trigger a third intifada, senior Fatah official Hatem Abdel Kader warned in a conversation with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. "It's a very sensitive situation," the former Palestinian Authority minister for Jerusalem affairs said as he stood outside a home in the city's Wadi Joz neighborhood. Officials from the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, including its leader, Sheikh Raed Salah, were among those who had congregated on the home's roof, in response to what they called "recent Israeli actions." Salah was arrested at that same house in the evening, after police decided that comments he had made in recent days - including calling on Muslims to become "martyrs," if necessary, for the sake of the Aksa Mosque - constituted incitement. The Jerusalem Magistrates Court banished Salah from the capital for 30 days late Tuesday night. Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch lauded the decision to arrest Salah. "I offer my full backing to the police. We will continue to enforce the law in an uncompromising manner," he said. "The police will use all of the tools at its disposal to act against any element that incites others to violence and subversion against the state," Aharonovitch said. Abdel Kader, who was arrested on Sunday for inciting violence and banned from entering the Old City for 15 days, blamed the police for the current round of tensions that have engulfed the capital's eastern neighborhoods. "Israel's decisions so far have been very dangerous," he said. "And if they don't want things to escalate, the Israelis should back away from this issue. If not, we are afraid that the situation could lead to an explosion - it could lead to a third intifada." Abdel Kader's comments came after an upswing in violence in recent days, which began on Sunday morning when some 150 Muslims threw rocks and bottles at police after being denied entry to the Temple Mount compound for morning prayers at the Aksa Mosque. Security forces had decided to close off the compound after calls for Muslim men to come and "defend the mount" had circulated throughout east Jerusalem and Arab villages in northern Israel over the weekend. In addition, a police patrol on the Temple Mount early Sunday morning had discovered wheelbarrows filled with rocks, which led security forces to believe that riots had been planned in advance of Sunday's prayers. While police have been able to preserve a sense of calm inside the Old City since Sunday morning, violence has continued to flare up in the nearby east Jerusalem neighborhoods of Silwan, Ras al-Amud, Isawiya and the Shuafat refugee camp. Meanwhile on Tuesday, the IDF, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and Border Police were gearing up for the possibility that the violence would spread to other parts of the country, particularly to the West Bank. The IDF Central Command, military sources said, has drawn up plans in case the disturbances spread into Palestinian towns and cities. "The fear is not of a third intifada but of the possibility that we will see massive demonstrations, including rock-throwing and mild violence in the West Bank," one source said. According to intelligence obtained by Israel, Salah had been the main inciter behind the violence in Jerusalem. His motives are perceived to be twofold. First, he wants to posit himself as the leader of the entire Islamic Movement in Israel and second, he hopes that the publicity he creates for himself will draw donations from Arab countries throughout the Middle East. Defense officials said that Friday morning's prayers on the Temple Mount would be the "real test" for the continuation of the rioting. "It depends a lot on what happens on Friday," one official said. "If people are injured on Friday, then the violence may escalate, but if things are quiet then the violence may subside." Since the Temple Mount was reopened to Muslim worshipers on Sunday afternoon, entry to the compound has been restricted to females and to men over the age of 50. All need to present the blue IDs held by Israeli citizens and most Arab Jerusalemites. Abdel Kader's arrest on Sunday afternoon was also part of the police response to that day's riots, but the Fatah official was released on the condition that he remain at least 150 meters away from the Old City for 15 days. "This house is the 150-meter mark," he said on Tuesday with a smile. "We're adhering to the restraining order." Abdel Kader, who represents Fatah's "young guard," said all eyes were on Al-Aksa, and that Palestinians were deeply concerned over the tensions surrounding the site. "All we want is Al-Aksa, without any restrictions," he said. "Tourists should be able to visit, but only with the cooperation of the Wakf [Islamic trust]." Touching on unfounded rumors that Israeli authorities had planned to allow Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount - a claim that set off similar riots near the Aksa Mosque just before Yom Kippur - Abdel Kader said that no other religious groups should be allowed to pray there. "People must respect the site," he said. "It's a very important symbol for us, and [the current restrictions] are a violation of our freedom of religion. What would happen if they restricted access to the Kotel? Arabs aren't allowed to go there as it is now, but what if they restricted entry to the Kotel for Jews?" Abdel Kader also said any outbreak of violence would threaten already-stalled peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. "If they make something happen in Al-Aksa, the entire peace process could explode," he said. But residents of Wadi Joz portrayed a different point of view, as many said they were tired of the unrest and did not believe it would lead to a full-scale uprising. "People are tired of the violence," said Basam, a mechanic whose shop sits at the entrance to the neighborhood. "Nobody here wants a third intifada - they see what the second intifada brought, and to be honest with you, things are worse." While Basam said he was no dove, instead favoring the creation of an Islamic government in the region to "solve all of the problems facing us," he did concede that the current governments - Palestinian and Israeli alike - were making no progress. "They're just stirring up trouble," he said. "And if they think that I'm going to take part in some sort of disturbance, I'll tell them that if I were to close my shop for one day, I'd be out NIS 1,500. Who's going to put bread on my table after that?" Separately, a ground-breaking ceremony marking the expansion of a recently built Jewish neighborhood in southeast Jerusalem is set to be held on Wednesday, according to the organizers. The ceremony in the Nof Zion residential complex - situated in the Arab neighborhood of Jebl Mukaber - will be attended by Interior Minister Eli Yishai, Tel Aviv Chief rabbi Meir Lau, right-wing MKs and thousands of supporters, event organizers said. In the course of the ceremony, a new Torah scroll for the local synagogue will be brought in. Yaakov Lappin and Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.

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