Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has announced that the Palestinian leadership will freeze all contact with Israel, as mass protests over new Israeli security measures at the al-Aqsa compound turned deadly.
In a brief televised speech on Friday, Abbas said all official contact would be suspended until Israel removed metal detectors installed there last week.
“I declare the suspension of all contacts with the Israeli side on all levels until it cancels its measures at Al-Aqsa Mosque and preserves the status quo,” Abbas said.
The announcement follows the killing of at least three Palestinians in clashes in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank on Friday after Israeli police fired live ammunition, tear gas, and rubber-coated steel bullets to disperse protesters.
Hundreds more were wounded.
“It’s a major move by Mahmoud Abbas,” Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcet, reporting from occupied East Jerusalem, said. “It means ending security cooperation, that is something a vast majority of Palestinians have been calling for.”
“It’s a way of trying to increase the pressure on Israel to remove the metal detectors that have sparked the protests,” he said.
Muslim leaders allege the metal detectors are part of a purported Israeli attempt to expand control over the site. Israel has denied such allegations.
The ancient marble-and-stone compound is revered by both Muslims and Jews.
It houses the al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site, and the western wall of the compound, also known as the Wailing Wall, is considered the holiest site in Judaism.
Israel installed the metal detectors after Palestinian gunmen launched a deadly attack from there last week.
Israel said the devices were needed to prevent more attacks. But Palestinians view the measures as collective punishment and an infringement on the status quo, which gives Muslims religious control over the compound and Jews the right to visit, but not pray there.
Farhan Haq, the UN spokesman, told reporters on Friday that “ultimately, what is important is for all of the people at the holy sites, including all the worshippers at the holy sites, to feel that their religious liberties are being respected.”
He said the issue was complex and that “we do understand legitimate security concerns, but on the other hand it is important that the status quo at the site by retained.”