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Watchdog Group: Palestinian Officials Are Threatening a ‘Religious War’ Over Jews Praying on Temple Mount

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JERUSALEM, Israel – An Israeli non-profit organization that tracks incitement in Palestinian media says Palestinian Authority (PA) officials are threatening a “religious” war over Jews praying at the Temple Mount.

Palestinian Media Watch released a report on Thursday it says shows PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ “official spokesmen and advisors” claiming that Israel seeks to enforce Jewish prayer at the site and eventually build a third temple.

The Temple Mount is the emotional epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is the holiest site in Judaism and two Jewish temples once stood there. The compound is also the third holiest site in Islam. Israel has vowed to maintain the “status quo” at the compound, which means non-Muslims are allowed to visit but are not allowed to pray or perform religious rituals. However, unorganized Jewish prayer has recently returned to the site amid a surge in Jewish visitation.

The report cites a statement from Ahmed Al-Ruweidi, Abbas’ advisor on Jerusalem Affairs, suggesting that continued visits by Jews to the Temple Mount combined with the theoretical implementation of separate prayer times for Jewish and Muslim worshippers, would be considered an attack on Muslims worldwide and trigger a religious war.

‘The religious war will not stop at the borders of the region and the borders of the Palestinian people, but rather will reach the US, Europe, and the entire world,” Al-Ruweidi told the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida on May 30.

According to the report, the claim that Israel seeks to enforce separate prayer times for Jews and Muslims on the Temple Mount is based on a failed 2003 proposal by a member of Israel’s parliament that called on the government to end the status quo at the religious site and allow Jewish prayer there. The bill was never made law and Israeli leaders have repeatedly said they have no intention of changing the status quo on the Temple Mount.

Palestinian Media Watch says that PA leaders believe an implementation of separate prayer times is one step in an overarching plan to build a third temple at the site, a claim Israel has repeatedly denied.

Palestinian Media Watch cited a statement from PA religious leader Sheikh Muhammad Hussein saying that ‘The [Al-Aqsa] Mosque belongs only to the Muslims, and we will not agree to partnership or division.” 

The report also cited comments made by Abbas’ Presidential Spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina to the PA daily Wafa.

According to Wafa, “Abu Rudeina said that the daily break-ins by extremist Jews into the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque and its plazas have become an invasion and not a visit. He added that they are denounced and unacceptable.”

The Wafa report continued, saying that “Abu Rudeina emphasized that the legal and historical status quo at the Al-Aqsa Mosque must be preserved, and he warned that continued invasion will turn the conflict into a religious war that will exterminate everything.” 

The Al Aqsa Mosque has been the site of repeated violent clashes between Muslim worshippers and Israeli security forces, especially during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan when religious tensions are high.

Palestinians accuse Israeli officers of attacking worshippers and using unnecessarily heavy-handed tactics to calm unrest. Israel blames the violence on rioters and terrorists who it says are trying to escalate tensions in the region.

In April, during a period of repeated clashes between Muslims and Israeli police, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid accused “terrorist organizations” of  “trying to hijack the Al-Aqsa Mosque in order to create an outbreak of violence in Jerusalem, and from there, a violent conflict across the country.”

He also denied reports that Israel is seeking to change the status quo by allowing Jews to pray on the Temple Mount.

“Israel is committed to the status quo on the Temple Mount. Muslims pray on the Temple Mount, non-Muslims visit. There is no change. There will be no change. We have no plans to divide the Temple Mount between religions,” he said.

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