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Netanyahu rejects French call for observers at Jerusalem holy site

18 October 2015, 18:58

Tel Aviv - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday rejected a French call to station international observers at a disputed holy site in Jerusalem central to a wave of violence flooding the region.

Israel will not accept any "internationalisation of the Temple Mount", Netanyahu told his cabinet, referring to the site, which is known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

It houses the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock shrine and is the third-holiest in Islam. It also houses the ruins of the Biblical Jewish Temple and is the most sacred site in Judaism. Under long-standing agreements, Jews may visit the site, but must limit any praying activity to the nearby Wailing Wall.

The latest surge in violence has been sparked by Palestinian concerns that Israel wants to change the status quo and allow Jewish religious activities on the compound. Israel has denied repeatedly that it is seeking such a change.

France is pushing for the UN Security Council to make a statement calling for the deployment of international observers on the site, to ensure the status quo is maintained, Le Figaro reported this weekend, citing French diplomats.

The last two weeks have seen an unprecedented wave of Palestinian stabbing attacks. Although no incidents were reported on Sunday, Friday and Saturday saw four Palestinian attackers killed and two Israeli soldiers injured in six new stabbing attacks in and near the divided southern West Bank town of Hebron; in East Jerusalem; and at a central West Bank checkpoint.

The suspects were aged between 16 and 18. 

The region has seen Palestinians launch some 28 knife attacks against Israelis since October 3.

Seven Israelis have been killed and many injured.

More than 40 Palestinians has died. More than half of them were suspected assailants who were shot dead while or after stabbing Israelis. The rest were killed in clashes with Israeli security forces, who have used tear gas, rubber bullets, as well as live ammunition against masked Palestinians who have hurled petrol bombs and rocks at them and at Israeli civilians.

More than 1 000 Palestinians have been injured.

Some Palestinians have said the protests are a third Intifada, one decade after the second Palestinian uprising died down. The second Intifada broke out in 2000 amid a deadlock in peace negotiations. 

The last round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, pushed by US Secretary of State John Kerry, collapsed in April 2014.

Kerry said Sunday he would soon conduct separate meetings with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, French broadcaster BFM-TV reported.

Kerry was quoted as saying that he would meet Netanyahu in Germany this week before travelling to meet with Abbas, as well as King Abdullah Ibn al-Hussein of Jordan.

But Netanyahu made clear Sunday that he believes only Israel can be relied upon to protect the integrity of the sites at the core of the conflict.

"We've seen across the Middle East - in Palmyra, in Iraq, throughout Iraq and elsewhere how the militant Muslims blast each other's mosques to the sky," said Netanyahu.

"We've just seen it in a Jewish holy site, Joseph's Tomb. Only Israel, Israel alone, is the guarantor of the holy sites on the Temple Mount," he added. Palestinians late Thursday set fire to a religious site in the northern West Bank revered by Jews as the tomb of biblical patriarch Joseph.

Muslim worshippers who attack non-Muslim visitors at the Mount by pelting them with rocks and firecrackers were the ones who were changing the status quo, Netanyahu charged.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis said he was "following with great concern" the tensions and violence in the Holy Land.

Calling for non-violence and on leaders of both sides to take "concrete steps toward de-escalation," he said: "At this time there is a need for great courage and great moral strength to say no to hatred and revenge and to commit acts of peace." 



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