JERUSALEM (Reuters) — President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel on Sunday of trying to erase any Arabic identity from Jerusalem, drawing a strong response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Abbas, speaking at a conference in Qatar, said that for the past few years Israel has been waging a “final battle” aimed at erasing the Arab, Muslim and Christian character of East Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan during the 1967 Middle East war.
Abbas said that through settlement building in the West Bank and Jerusalem, Israel is carrying out an “ethnic cleansing, in every sense against the Palestinian residents in order to turn them into minorities in their own city.”
Netanyahu called the Palestinian leader’s remarks “a harshly inflammatory speech from someone who claims that he is bent on peace.”
“(Abbas) knows full well that there is no foundation to his contemptible remarks,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.
Israeli human rights organization BT’Selem says that since 1967 “the government has been taking actions to increase the number of Jews, and reduce the number of Palestinians” living in Jerusalem.
“The government of Israel’s primary goal in Jerusalem has been to create a demographic and geographic situation that will thwart any future attempt to challenge Israeli sovereignty over the city,” the group says.
Netanyahu, who opposes dividing the city, said that Jerusalem has been the “eternal capital for the Jewish people” for thousands of years. He said that Israel will continue to maintain the city’s holy sites and freedom of worship for all.
Israeli forces clashed with Palestinians in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Friday, exchanging a volley of tear gas and rocks.
(occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com / 26.02.2012)