Arınç attends Muslim forum amid al-Aqsa tensions

October 28, 2009, Wednesday/ 17:25:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç departed for Morocco on Tuesday to attend a forum expected to focus on the clashes near Jerusalem's most volatile holy site, which have raised concerns in Ankara amid the simmering political tension in ties with Israel.

Israeli police stormed the site, known as al-Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, to Muslims and as the Temple Mount to Jews, twice on Sunday and used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse stone-throwing Palestinian protesters. In a statement on Monday, the Foreign Ministry expressed concern over the clashes and called for measures to prevent repetitions of such incidents in the future.

“The latest incidents in Jerusalem will be discussed in detail,” Arınç told reporters before departing for Morocco to attend a meeting of the Al-Quds International Forum, bringing together representatives of 18 countries. He said he would also deliver a speech at the forum.

The Foreign Ministry warned that incidents such as Sunday's clashes could harm efforts aiming to ensure peace and stability in the region and called for the release of Palestinians arrested by the Israeli police, including Palestinian officials, as soon as possible. "Sensitivities regarding al-Haram al-Sharif, one of the most sacred places of the Islamic world, should be taken into consideration," the ministry said.

Sunday's unrest, the culmination of weeks-long tensions and sporadic clashes, erupted after Muslim leaders urged followers to protect Islamic holy sites from alleged Israeli plots to damage them or let Jews pray in the compound, where only Muslims are allowed to worship.

Israel has been conducting extensive archaeological digs in and around Jerusalem's Old City, but it says none of the work threatens Muslim holy sites. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Muslim extremists of spreading lies to foment violence.

A group of hard-line settlers and rabbis fueled tensions on Sunday by urging Jews to converge on the site and pray.

Conflicting claims to the plateau lie at the heart of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Jews revere it as the site of their two biblical Temples, and Muslims regard the al-Aqsa Mosque compound as Islam's third-holiest site. Israel has controlled the compound since capturing East Jerusalem in 1967 and insists it will retain it forever, though it has left day-to-day administration to a Muslim clerical body.

The Jerusalem clashes may further exacerbate the political tensions between Turkey and Israel, which have been at odds over Israeli policies in Gaza. Ankara recently excluded Israel from an international military exercise it hosted due to the ongoing humanitarian tragedy in Gaza.

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