The rising tensions between Israel and the Palestinians are reminiscent of the days that preceded the large-scale IDF operation in the West Bank 20 years ago, Shami al-Shami, a senior member of the ruling Fatah faction in the Jenin area, said Thursday.
In 2002, the IDF launched Operation Defensive Shield, the largest military operation in the West Bank since the Six Day War in 1967, to stop terrorist attacks against Israel.
Israel’s actions, including “incursions” into Palestinian cities, villages and refugee camps, are threatening to derail efforts to ease tensions on the eve of Ramadan, which starts on Saturday evening, Shami, a former member of the dissolved Palestinian Legislative Council, told The Jerusalem Post.
Israeli “practices and assaults” during Ramadan will lead to an “explosion,” Hamas and other Palestinian factions warned.
As part of the efforts to avert a flare-up of violence during Ramadan, Jordan’s King Abdullah earlier this week made a rare visit to Ramallah, where he held talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and senior PA officials on the recent tensions in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
President Isaac Herzog, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev held talks in Amman with Abdullah and senior government officials as part of the efforts to prevent an all-out deterioration of the security situation during Ramadan.
Shami accused Israel of deliberately escalating tensions with the Palestinians by stepping up its “incursions” and “crimes” in the West Bank, particularly after Thursday morning’s IDF operation in the Jenin refugee camp, during which two Palestinians were killed.
Asked if the PA could prevent a further escalation, especially during Ramadan, the Fatah official said: “The Palestinian Authority can play a role in de-escalating tensions, but only if the Zionist enemy halts its incursions [into Palestinian communities]. The Palestinian Authority can calm the situation through its coordination with the all the Palestinian factions. But it seems that the Israeli government is working toward escalating the tensions.”
If Israel continues its practices against the Palestinians, “the [Palestinian] resistance will be more violent,” Shami warned.
The PA has “relayed direct and indirect messages” to Israel about the need to avoid violent clashes, especially in Jerusalem, a Palestinian official, responding to concerns about a possible outbreak of fresh violence during Ramadan, told the Post.
“Israel knows what it needs to do to prevent a deterioration,” the official said. “We sent several messages to the Israelis through direct contacts and through third parties, including Jordan and the US. The ball is now in the Israeli court.”
On the eve of Ramadan, however, Palestinian officials in Ramallah have ramped up their criticism of Israel, warning against “provocative measures” against the Palestinians, including visits by Jews to the Aqsa Mosque compound and the Temple Mount.
In a statement, Abbas’s office “condemned the dangerous Israeli escalation against our people and their sanctities, which was represented by the storming of the blessed al-Aqsa Mosque by Jewish extremists under the protection of the occupation police.”
The statement was referring to ongoing tours by Jews to the Temple Mount, which are regularly depicted by the Palestinians as violent incursions.
The statement also denounced “the heinous crime committed by the occupation forces in the city of Jenin, which resulted in the death of several citizens and the injury of 14 others, including three in critical condition.”
It was referring to the clashes that erupted early Thursday between the IDF and Palestinians in the Jenin refugee camp.
“Such provocations will drag the region into more tension and escalation,” Abbas’s office said. “This Israeli policy of escalation is inconsistent with the efforts made at all levels to make the month of Ramadan a holy month. We hold the occupation government fully responsible for this escalation and its repercussions and call on the international community to take immediate action to restrain Israel and hold it accountable for its crimes.”
The Palestinian Supreme Fatwa Council called on Muslims to intensify their presence in Jerusalem and at al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan.
“Al-Aqsa Mosque desperately needs the presence of our people at it in light of the fierce [Israeli] campaign targeting its existence, sanctity and unity,” the council said. “This campaign reached its peak recently with the mass incursions by settlers into the mosque and its courtyards and gates.”
PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh accused Israel of “provoking the feelings” of the Muslims on the eve of Ramadan.
Referring to the clashes in the Jenin refugee camp and Jewish tours of the Temple Mount, Shtayyeh warned of the “serious repercussions” from Israel’s “crimes.”
Shtayyeh criticized Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for advising Israeli civilians to carry weapons in the aftermath of the recent terrorist attacks in Beersheba, Hadera and Bnei Brak.
According to Shtayyeh, Bennett’s advice “calls for urgent international intervention to provide protection for the Palestinian people.”
Fatah’s No. 2, Mahmoud Aloul, also lashed out at Israel and accused it of “assaulting all values of justice and civilization.”
The Palestinians will be forced to react to the Israeli practices, he said, without elaborating.
The PA Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for its part, called on the international community not to believe the “misleading Israeli propaganda regarding calming the situation.”
“Israeli intentions and plans aim to escalate the situation and push it towards violence,” the ministry said in a statement. “This proves that its talk about calming the situation is false.”
The ministry also warned against allowing Jews to “storm” the Temple Mount or “imposing restrictions that prevent access to al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan.”
The ministry said the Israeli government was “fully and directly responsible for its deliberate escalation and the resulting violations and crimes against our people” and warned that Israel would bear the “disastrous consequences” of its actions, “especially the Jewish targeting of al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan.”