Netanyahu tries to cool down tension

Jerusalem, October 27

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scrambled today to contain inflammatory rhetoric from his government over Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, at the heart of a wave of deadly Palestinian unrest.

With efforts to defuse tensions already strained, deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely stoked Palestinian fears by saying it was her “dream to see the Israeli flag flying” over the holy site, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews. “We should raise the flag, this is Israel’s capital and it is the holiest place to the Jewish people,” she said in excerpts from a TV interview to be broadcast today. Netanyahu’s office reacted swiftly with a statement late yesterday recalling his promise to maintain the status quo which allows Muslims to pray at the site, and Jews to visit but not pray there.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu made it clear that he expects all members of the government to act accordingly,” his office said in a statement.

Palestinians accuse Israel of seeking to allow Jewish prayer at the hilltop site — known to Jews as Temple Mount — in Jerusalem’s walled Old City. An increase in Jewish visitors to the site, some of whom secretly pray there despite it being forbidden, and inflammatory statements by politicians, have fuelled tensions.

Clashes at the mosque compound in east Jerusalem spiralled into a wave of stabbing attacks and shootings that have left nine Israelis dead since October 1.

Today, a 76-year-old Israeli man who was shot in the head and stabbed in the chest in an attack on a Jerusalem bus on October 13 succumbed to his wounds, according to the Hadassah hospital.