Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday criticized Israeli violence against Palestinians at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque during clashes over the past three days.
Abbas, speaking in particularly harsh language, insisted that none of Jerusalem's holy sites belonged to Israel.
"They are all ours and we will not let them desecrate it with their filthy feet," he said during a visit to Jerusalem earlier in the day. "We will protect Jerusalem and will protect our Christian and Muslim holy sites. We will not leave our homeland. We will remain holding every atom of soil in this homeland."
Rioting erupted between Israeli police and Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound as Jews celebrated their new year between Sunday evening and Tuesday evening.
The Israeli police entered the compound to disperse protesters, in a response that sparked condemnation across the Arab world and concern that the tensions could spiral out of control.
The U.N.’s Mideast envoy, Nikolay Mladenov, warned on Tuesday that clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in and around Jerusalem’s holy sites have the potential to ignite violence well beyond the walls of its old city, pointing to “a vicious tide of terror and extremism” in the region.
Also, French President Francois Hollande warned Wednesday that any change in the rules governing Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound could lead to "serious destabilization."
In a telephone call with King Abdullah II of Jordan, which has custodianship rights over the contentious holy site, Hollande expressed his "deep concern" over the recent clashes.
The compound is the third-holiest site in Islam and home to the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque. It is also the holiest site in Judaism which venerates it as the Temple Mount.
Jews are allowed to visit the compound, but cannot pray there to avoid provoking tensions with Muslim worshippers.
Israel seized east Jerusalem, where Al-Aqsa is located, in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.
Muslim protesters fear Israel will seek to change rules governing the site, with far-right Jewish groups pushing for more access to the compound.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened an emergency meeting late Tuesday, where he vowed tougher measures to curb the violence.
On Wednesday, he visited the site where a 64-year-old Israeli man died. He also toured a West Bank highway that is frequently targeted by stone throwers.
"We are changing policy. The situation that exists is unacceptable and we plan to give soldiers and police officers tools to act forcefully against those who throw stones and firebombs," Netanyahu said.
"This rock was one rock too many. We declare war on the rock throwers, the firebomb throwers and the other outlaws."
(with AFP and the Associated Press)