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(photo credit: AP [file])
In the wake of the recent clashes between Arabs and security forces in Jerusalem and the restricted access to the Temple Mount, Balad leader Dr. Jamal Zahalka said Wednesday that Israel was "trying to change the status quo [in the capital] by creating new facts on the ground."
Speaking to Army Radio, Zahalka asserted that recent conspiracy theories may not be unfounded, speculating that Israel was possibly "planning to build a synagogue" on the Temple Mount. He explained that while Al Aksa Mosque had stood on the Temple Mount for 1,400 years, Israeli excavations underneath it could endanger several Old City mosques "in the event of an earthquake."
Zahalka requested international supervision of Israeli excavations in the area, adding that he was alarmed by what he termed the "transition" of right-wing extremism "from the margins of Israeli society to its political mainstream."
Earlier on Wednesday, a delegation from the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, as well as Arab MKs, toured Jerusalem's Aksa mosque. Jerusalem police were informed of the visit in advance.
During the visit, MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List) exclaimed that "Israel's presence in Al Aksa is a foreign, occupational presence."
Later in the day, Tibi told Army Radio that "the growing limitations placed on worshipers wishing to enter Al Aksa Mosque, "in addition to "expulsion of Palestinians from their homes, continued settlement construction" and, of course, "the political dead-end," would have dire consequences.
He added that controversial statements made by various MKs and "Jewish fanatics" conveyed the message that Israel intended to change the status quo on the Temple Mount.
Other leaders reiterated previous claims of Israeli archaeological excavations under the Temple Mount, and reportedly promised to "keep the peace," as long as Muslims were not prevented from entering holy sites during Friday prayers.
President Shimon Peres stressed that Israel was committed to the preservation of all Islamic holy sites and that digging under them was against the law.
In an Army Radio conducted later on Wednesday, Likud MK Ophir Akunis stated that "only Israeli control of Jerusalem would afford all religions true freedom to practice their faith, without bullying and without words of incitement."
Also Wednesday, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana expressed concern over "recent clashes in east Jerusalem."
In a statement, he called for restraint, saying, "I have been closely following the situation around the Aksa mosque in recent days. I would like to urge all parties to refrain from provocative actions that could further inflame tensions or lead to violence."
"Everyone must take action to avoid escalation," he added.
This latest upswing in violence 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 discovered wheelbarrows filled with rocks, which led security forces to believe that riots had been planned in advance of Sunday's prayers.
Abe Selig contributed to this report