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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Abbas confirms halt to security coordination with Israel over Al Aqsa 

Arab League calls emergency meeting to discuss Israeli measures at holy site

An elderly Palestinian man in a wheelchair passes Israeli security guards outside the Lions' Gate entrance of Jerusalem's Old City on July 23, 2017. Atef Safadi / EPA
An elderly Palestinian man in a wheelchair passes Israeli security guards outside the Lions' Gate entrance of Jerusalem's Old City on July 23, 2017. Atef Safadi / EPA

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday confirmed he had suspended security coordination between his forces and the Israeli army in protest against Israel's installation of metal detectors at Al Aqsa mosque.

"They have no right to install these at the gates of Al Aqsa because the sovereignty over blessed Al Aqsa mosque is ours," Mr Abbas said.

"Therefore we have taken a decisive and firm position especially regarding security coordination and all forms of coordination between us and them," the Palestinian president said.

"If we are patient we will surely get what we want and halt these electronic doors and stop these measures and stop the raids of the Israeli government in all the cities of the West Bank."

Mr Abbas had said on Friday that he was suspending "all contacts" with Israel over the issue.

However, he has in the past insisted on maintaining security coordination with Israel despite opposition from large segments of Palestinians who view it as cooperation with the occupation.

An Israeli minister joined the calls for the removal of metal detectors on Sunday as the situation in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank remained explosive.

"Checks with metal detectors won't succeed," housing minister Yoav Gallant told the Ynet news agency.

Israel says it installed the metal detectors as a security measure, but the move has been widely perceived by Palestinians as a step towards Israel's takeover of the site — the third holiest in Islam.

Mr Gallant, who is also a former commander of Israeli forces in Gaza, said he opposed the metal detectors because the Palestinians were using them as an excuse to incite to violence against Israel.

"The other side takes this positive thing of a security measure and uses it to gore the Israeli system," he said. "This is problematic — they are using it to booby-trap the area with potential for terrorism."

Mr Gallant, who is from the right-wing Kulanu party, also said the detectors are not a practical security solution given the large number of people who pray at Al Aqsa.

His comments came as the Arab League's secretary-general accused Israel of "playing with fire" with the new measures at the compound, known as Haram Al Sharif.

"Jerusalem is a red line," Ahmed Abu Al Gheit said, adding that "no Arab or Muslim will accept violations" against Jerusalem's holy sites. He also accused the Israeli government of "adventurism" and said its moves at Al Aqsa could trigger "a crisis with the Arab and Muslim world".

The League said it would hold an emergency meeting of foreign ministers on Wednesday to discuss the escalating tensions.

Israeli police installed the detectors at the compound — which is also sacred to Jews who call it Temple Mount — after three Palestinian gunmen killed two officers there on July 14. Since then, four Palestinians have been killed and hundreds more injured in clashes that began in East Jerusalem on Friday between Israeli security forces and Palestinians protesting the measure.

In the West Bank, a 19-year-old Palestinian named Omar Al Abed stabbed to death three members of a settler family in their home on Friday night before being wounded and apprehended. In a Facebook post written before the attack, Al Abed said he was answering "the call of Al Aqsa".

Mr Gallant predicted that in the end, the Israeli cabinet would find a "better solution" than the metal detectors "that will entail intelligence, cameras, snap inspections and other things but that will enable the flow [of worshippers] and I hope will restore calm".

Gadi Zohar, former chief Israeli military administrator for the West Bank and Gaza Strip, also called for a reassessment of the measure.

"We really need to expect that the government of Israel will find a way to calm things not just with force but with rethinking the response on the Temple Mount, especially on the issue of the metal detectors," he said.

But Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave no sign on Sunday that he was ready to shift course. "Since the start of the events I've held a series of assessments with security elements including those in the field," he said at the weekly cabinet meeting. "We are receiving an up-to-date picture of the situation and recommendations for action and we will decide accordingly.”

“We are conducting this calmly, determinedly and responsibly and we will continue to maintain our security," he added.

Veteran Israeli political analyst Akiva Eldar said that although the Israeli army and the Shin Bet — Israel’s internal security service — had advised against installing the metal detectors, Mr Netanyahu had endorsed the measure out of fear of otherwise being portrayed as soft on terror and weak on security by his far-right coalition partner, Naftali Bennet, the leader of the Jewish Home party.

"Netanyahu is always looking to the right and worrying about what Bennet will say," said Mr Eldar, a columnist for Al Monitor news website and former diplomatic correspondent of Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.

Now, after the clashes in East Jerusalem and the settler killings, Mr Netanyahu does not want to be seen as caving into Palestinian violence, Mr Eldar said.

"You need to consult all the parties, not dictate,” Mr Eldar said of the decision to install the detectors. “The problem is that Netanyahu feels he's the boss and that the Temple Mount is ours. The Palestinians and Arabs don't see it that way so the conflict is inherent."