Palestinians urged to defend al-Aksa

Palestinians urged to m

The Fatah Central Council has called for a general strike in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip on Friday in protest of Israel's "measures against al-Aksa Mosque." The call comes as the faction and its leader, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, are facing a wave of unprecedented protests over the decision to withdraw support for the UN fact-finding mission's report into Operation Cast Lead. The council expressed "deep concern" over Israel's security measures in Jerusalem following an outburst of violence over the past week. It said Israel was "besieging" the mosque, preventing Muslims from reaching the area and "colluding" with Jewish extremists by enabling them to enter the compound. The council called on Palestinians to mobilize "in defense" of al-Aksa Mosque and to launch peaceful demonstrations in protest of Israel's restrictions. Israeli Police are bracing to prevent violence in and around the Temple Mount on Friday, when noontime prayers usually draw the largest crowds of the week to al-Aksa. So far this week, men aged under 50 have been barred from the Temple Mount compound. Violence has flared intermittently in east Jerusalem this week, though Thursday was relatively quiet, and there are concerns of an upsurge on Friday, and of a widening of confrontation in the West Bank. The Islamic Movement in Israel has also called on its followers to defy Israeli restrictions and show up for Friday prayers. The Fatah call for a general strike is seen by many Palestinians as an attempt to deflect attention from the severe crisis that erupted in the PA following Abbas's decision to defer consideration of the UN report that claimed that both Israel and Hamas had committed crimes against humanity during the war. Hatem Abdel Kader, holder of the Jerusalem portfolio in Fatah, warned that Israel's decision to "isolate" Jerusalem from the West Bank could have serious repercussions. He also warned that preventing Muslims from entering the Temple Mount or Jerusalem could lead to "unnecessary friction" with Israeli soldiers and policemen. Earlier this week, Abdel Kader and Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the Islamic Movement's northern branch, were ordered by a magistrate's court to stay away from Jerusalem for one month after being accused of incitement. Meanwhile, the PA has begun organizing demonstrations in support of Abbas in different parts of the West Bank. Organizers said the demonstrations, which began in Ramallah on Thursday, were in protest of the fierce campaign of incitement against Abbas over his decision to abandon Judge Richard Goldstone's report on Operation Cast Lead. PA civil servants and schoolchildren have been ordered to take to the streets and demonstrate in favor of Abbas, eyewitnesses told The Jerusalem Post. They said senior PA officials had threatened that anyone who refused to participate would be dismissed from his or her job. About 40 Palestinian organizations have launched a campaign aimed at pressuring Abbas to resign. The organizations began collecting signatures on Thursday in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for a petition that strongly condemns Abbas's decision and calls for his immediate resignation.