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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Expect more violence if Israel refuses to remove Al Aqsa metal detectors, analysts warn

With the failure of the peace process and emotions so high over new Israeli measures at the holy site, analysts believe the Palestinian leadership is unable to 'quiet' the situation

A Palestinian worshipper passes through metal detectors installed by Israel at the entrance to Al Aqsa compound in Jerusalem on July 22, 2017. Atef Safati /EPA
A Palestinian worshipper passes through metal detectors installed by Israel at the entrance to Al Aqsa compound in Jerusalem on July 22, 2017. Atef Safati /EPA

A major explosion of violence in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem will erupt unless Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu backs down and removes the metal detectors installed at the entrance to Al Aqsa mosque compound, leading Palestinian analysts said on Saturday.

Given the popular outrage over the metal detectors, widely viewed by Palestinians as a step towards Israel taking control of Al Aqsa, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas should not be expected to intervene to try to limit confrontations with Israeli forces, the analysts added. They stressed that the current Palestinian rage is layered over long-standing bitterness due to the failure of the peace process and Israeli occupation practices.

"The leadership will not be able to quiet the situation because emotions are so high over Al Aqsa and there is a big failure of the peace process and all the people are affected by Israeli measures against their rights. There is so much frustration," said Talal Awkal, a columnist for the Ramallah-based Al Ayyam daily newspaper.

"I expect a popular, general intifada," he said using the term that refers to Palestinian uprisings from 1987 to 1993 and from 2000 to 2005. "In this intifada the individuals will do much more than the [Palestinian political] factions. They will take the responsibility to confront the Israelis."

Mr Awkal predicts another intifada will consist of stone-throwing and individual attacks similar to Friday night's stabbing of three settlers by a lone Palestinian who penetrated the West Bank settlement of Halamish. The assailant, 19-year-old Omar Al Abed, had been outraged over Israel's measures at Al Aqsa, according to a post he wrote on Facebook before the attack.

"Even if he was in an organisation, he didn't act according to the decision of leadership, he moved alone," Mr Awkal said. "Many persons can do it alone without being in an organisation. Many will try similar attacks."

Israeli police installed the metal detectors following a deadly attack by three Palestinian gunmen at an entrance to the mosque compound, Islam's third holiest site but also revered by Jews as Temple Mount. While Israeli authorities said this was a necessary security step, Palestinians believe the move reflects Israeli intentions to take control of the site.

Three Palestinians were killed and hundreds wounded in Jerusalem on Friday when Israeli security forces used tear gas, rubber-coated metal bullets and live fire on Palestinians protesting against the metal detectors. Violence resumed late Saturday with clashes between police and protesters.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu upheld the decision to install the metal detectors despite the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service, recommending they be removed.

Samir Awad, a political scientist at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, said: "I don't know what will trigger another attack but Palestinians have had enough. The situation is going to get much worse. This time it is totally in the hands of Netanyahu. If he decides his new measures are to be implemented, he should expect another intifada. If reason prevails, there won't be one."

On Friday evening, Mr Abbas announced that the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority would sever all ties with Israel until the metal detectors are removed. Mr Awad attributed this decision to popular street pressure from Palestinians.

In Mr Awad's view, it was the intervention of Mr Abbas that prevented street violence turning into an all out uprising in 2015. But this time emotions are so charged that the Palestinian leader cannot order his security forces to block demonstrators from confronting Israeli troops, he said.

"He can't do that," Mr Awad said. "He doesn't want to be viewed as standing with Israel against his people. If Palestinian police clash with demonstrators, Abbas loses legitimacy and power and he doesn't want to be in that situation."

Instead, Mr Abbas is more likely to "intensify contacts with Jordan, Egypt and Turkey to try to bring Israel back to reason".

But Mr Awad warned: "The Palestinian street is very volatile. Things can go wrong any time. Al Aqsa is a place heavily charged with emotions, people are willing to die for it and become martyrs going to heaven. A lot of Palestinians feel they are defending Al Aqsa on behalf of all Muslims."

As Palestinians protested in Jerusalem on Friday, demonstrations were also held in solidarity by Palestinians around the world — from Kuala Lumpur to Khartoum.

Veteran Palestinian politician Qais Abdul-Karim said: "If the Netanyahu government doesn't change course, we are heading to a full explosion and a new cycle of violence unfortunately. Palestinian people are all mobilised now and completely provoked because of the Israeli measures that are insulting their dignity and religion. All kinds of popular anger is to be expected."

Mr Abdul-Karim, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, added: "Many Palestinians believe we have got to the end of the rope and the existence of the Palestinian people is in danger."