FM Lapid Accuses Hamas Of Orchestrating Jerusalem Violence

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid gives a press briefing at the foreign ministry in Jerusalem, Sunday, April 24, 2022. (Debbie Hill/Pool via AP)

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Israel’s foreign minister on Sunday accused the Hamas terror group of orchestrating recent unrest at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, responding to criticism that Israeli police used heavy-handed tactics to quell the violence.

Yair Lapid made the comments following days of riots by Hamas-backed Palestinians at the Temple Mount.

Speaking to foreign reporters, Lapid accused Hamas of hijacking the activities at the Al-Aqsa Mosque during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and encouraging young Palestinian men to throw stones and fireworks at Israeli security forces.

“They have done this to create the provocation to force the Israeli police to enter the mosque” and set off a regionwide conflict, he said.

The Palestinians have accused Israel of provoking the latest violence by allowing large numbers of Jewish pilgrims to visit the site. Last week, Jews celebrated the festival of Passover, a time when tens of thousands of people visit Jerusalem.

Under longstanding agreements, Jews are permitted to visit the compound, but they are barred from praying. But in recent years, an increasing number of Jews have begun to quietly pray in violation of the rules, sometimes with Israeli police watching on. The Palestinians fear that such actions are part of an Israeli plot to take over or divide the site.

Lapid rejected such accusations, saying that Israel is committed to maintaining the “status quo” at the site.

“There is no change. There will be no change. We have no plans to divide the Temple Mount between religions,” he said. He called on Israel’s allies in the Muslim world to “act against the fake news” and to help calm the situation.

Lapid also rejected suggestions that Israeli police have used excessive force to disperse the demonstrations at the Al-Aqsa site.

On Friday, Israeli riot police stormed the compound after Palestinian youths hurled stones, iron bars and explosives at them. Palestinian social media have been filled with videos showing Israeli police hitting people with clubs and firing tear gas and stun grenades. Israeli police, meanwhile, have released their own videos showing Palestinians inside the mosque hurling stones and explosives.

“During Ramadan, Israel ensured that hundreds of thousands of Muslims could go to the Temple Mount and pray at Al-Aqsa,” Lapid said. “Despite provocations by terrorist organizations, despite attempts to stoke violence: We have done, and continue to do everything to enable peaceful prayer.”

The string of events in recent weeks has raised fears of a repeat of last year, when Hamas exploited protests and violence in Jerusalem to ignite an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas and communal violence in mixed Jewish-Arab cities inside Israel.

The rocket fire out of Gaza in recent days has been the heaviest since last year’s war. None of the rockets have caused any damage or injuries inside Israel, but they have set off sirens in parts of southern Israel and angered residents there. A misfired rocket also landed inside Gaza on Friday, exploding near a home and U.N. school and lightly wounding two people, according to local officials.

On Sunday, Israel closed its crossing with Gaza, barring some 12,000 Palestinians from going to work in Israel.