Meeting of pan-Islamic group held in Istanbul over Jerusalem tensions

ISTANBUL: The main grouping of the world’s Muslim nations on Tuesday accused Israel of staging provocative actions and inflaming tensions with the Palestinians in a crisis over security measures at a key holy site in Jerusalem.

Turkey hosted an extraordinary meeting in Istanbul of foreign ministers from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) that Ankara called to discuss the tensions in its current capacity as chairman of the body.

Turkey has full diplomatic relations with Israel after resolving last year a crisis in ties but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan remains vehemently critical of the Jewish state’s policy towards the Palestinians.

The meeting brought together foreign ministers and top officials from key Muslim nations, including Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose rival nations are locked in a bitter feud.

Israel angered the Islamic world by installing metal detectors and security cameras at the Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem following a July 14 attack in which gunmen killed two policemen. The move sparked Muslim protests and deadly unrest, and last week the Israeli government removed the detectors and cameras.

A joint communique issued after the gathering said the meeting “strongly condemns Israel’s recent provocative actions” at the holy site. It accused the Jewish state of “employing collective punishment measures and the use of lethal and excessive force against peaceful Palestinian worshippers” at the site.

And despite the Israeli climbdown on the metal detectors, the OIC statement accused the government of “persistent public statements … that incite religious sensitivities, feed tension and incite violence”. It urged world powers not to support or encourage Israel’s “illegal colonisation and annexation” of East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967 before later annexing.

Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki told the meeting that Israel’s move to remove the detectors was a “small victory in the long battle for freedom”.

But he accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of seeking to change the longstanding agreement whereby only Muslims are allowed to pray inside the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, although anyone can visit, including Jews. “Netanyahu will try again to impose his status quo and we should prepare for the next round which could come very soon and be very nasty,” he added.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said it was time Muslim countries started to help the Palestinians “not just with words but with actions”. “We must act to protect the Al-Aqsa mosque and Palestine,” he said. He reaffirmed a call made by Erdogan on all Muslims to visit Jerusalem.

In its statement, the OIC accused the Israeli government of “neither [being] committed to peace nor interested in the two-state solution”, saying its actions were the “most dangerous threat to the prospects of peace”.

But Erdogan, who considers himself a champion of the Palestinian cause, is still often critical of Israeli policy. His comments on the crisis have been among his toughest on Israel since the reconciliation deal.

Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2017