Israeli officials say Palestinian uprising unlikely
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Last Updated: Thursday, October 08, 2009, 19:31
Jerusalem: Palestinian leaders on Thursday called for a one-day general strike and warned of more street protests over Jerusalem, but Israel played down the risk of an uprising despite two weeks of tension in the disputed city.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction made the call for the strike on Friday in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, and Palestinian leaders warned of the likelihood of a battle ahead of Friday prayers at al-Aqsa mosque.

The compound housing the mosque is a holy place for both Muslims and Jews, and has often been a flashpoint. Israeli security forces control access to the area and regularly prohibit young Muslim men from entering the holy site in Jerusalem's Old City, citing security grounds.

Tensions rose two weeks ago when police and protesters clashed near al-Aqsa mosque on the eve of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. What triggered the incident remains unclear, but the dispute over access to the holy site was at the root of it.

A beefed-up Israeli police presence, and a relatively small turnout of Palestinian protesters, has kept violence under control in ensuing clashes since late September.

Palestinians in senior positions have warned of the risk of a "Third Intifada", or general uprising. But Israel has tried to avoid getting involved in any war of words over Jerusalem.

"I don't think we're facing a third intifada," Israeli Vice Premier Silvan Shalom said in a statement to Reuters. "Whoever says so is trying to instill fear."

Palestinians staged violent uprisings against Israeli rule in the late 1980s and again in 2000 when peace talks failed.

Small groups of Palestinian stone-throwers clashed with Israeli forces in the most recent cycle of confrontation and Israel banished a few Palestinian leaders from Jerusalem, charging them with incitement.

But the violence has not escalated further.

A political source said Israel saw a greater threat in Palestinian anger developing into mass demonstrations and stone-throwing protests, similar to the 1980s intifada, but not the sort of suicide bomb attacks against Israelis that marked the 2000 uprising, which few Palestinians would now support.

King Abdullah of Jordan, who plays a key part in management of al-Aqsa, said in an interview with Israel's Haaretz newspaper that Jerusalem was "a tinderbox" that could explode with reverberations felt throughout the Muslim world.

Mohammad Dahlan, a leader in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction charged that Israel "has opened the battle of Jerusalem." Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Israel of "lighting matches in the hope of sparking a fire".

An Israeli police source said intelligence assessments showed the commotion in East Jerusalem would not escalate.

"Yes, there are disturbances, but on a small scale. The ground isn't responding to attempts to bring a third intifada," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Bureau Report

First Published: Thursday, October 08, 2009, 19:31

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