Palestinians Warn Of
'Religious War' If Israel
Touches 'One Stone' Of Al-Aqsa
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AFP) - A Palestinian minister warned Tuesday that Israel's insistence on sovereignty over Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam, risked sparking a prolonged religious war.
Culture and information minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said the Israeli government was "playing with fire" over Haram al-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary, the site of the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
"Trying to touch or to play with the issue of al-Aqsa will lead to a religious war and replace attempts to reach peace and reconciliation with hatred and religious war which would last for generations," Abed Rabbo told reporters here.
The fate of the area, known to Jews as Temple Mount as it is built over the site of the Jewish Second Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. is a key stumbling block in efforts to find an Israeli Palestinian peace accord.
"Any attempt to touch even a stone in the Aqsa mosque will provoke more than a billion Muslims all over the world," Abed Rabbo said.
Israel is insisting it will not yield on sovereignty over the site, which lies in the Old City of east Jerusalem, occupied by the Jewish state in war in 1967 and annexed as part of its "unified, eternal" capital.
The claim is not recognised by the international community and the Palestinians want sovereignty over all of east Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state.
Meanwhile, Abed Rabbo said peace negotiations would resume "before the end of the week," and described Israeli attempts to delay the talks as a "manoeuvre."
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat announced at the weekend that the talks were set to resume, but no date for meetings was confirmed by Israel, although acting Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami said there were "contacts."
Abed Rabbo also warned that it would be "dangerous" if Israel did not abide by commitments under interim accords.
"The Israelis have to remember that part of our commitment was security so the commitments of the interim period still exist and Israel has to implement its part," he said.
Abed Rabbo also that a declaration of statehood had been put off for a "short time" and that the PLO Executive Committee will be taking steps to prepare for a state including the organisation of elections and preparing a draft for a constitution.
Israel hailed the PLO Central Council's decision to defer the declaration from the much-trumpeted date of September 13, a deadline for a peace accord certain to pass without an agreement.
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