Spectre of third intifada looms over Jerusalem
Hamas-inspired ‘day of rage’ followed by calls for terror attacks within Israel
Despite Israeli claims that a new intifada is not on the cards, the atmosphere on the Palestinian streets appears to tell a different story.
Violent clashes broke out between Arab protesters and Israeli police in East Jerusalem after Hamas leaders declared Tuesday a 'day of rage', resulting in scores of arrests and casualties on both sides.
The call to arms was ostensibly sparked by Israel's re-dedication of an ancient synagogue in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, an act that Hamas officials claimed would endanger the Al-Aqsa Mosque 400 metres away.
At the same time, tensions have been rising in the wider political arena for weeks, with Israel's determination to pursue its policy of settlement expansion sparking fury among both Palestinian politicians and foreign diplomats.
Israel's recent behaviour is akin to "pouring oil on the fire", according to chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, while Arab Knesset member Hanin Zuabi accused the Israeli government of "ethnic cleansing [and] incitement".
Against such a bitter backdrop, it has proved easy for radicals to fan the flames among the Palestinian populace, with scores of youths taking to the streets in Jerusalem to voice their frustration.
Missiles were thrown at police lines and fires started in locations throughout the eastern half of Jerusalem, resulting in fierce running battles between the rioters and security forces, who employed stun grenades to disperse the crowds.
By late afternoon, police spokesmen were claiming to have succeeded in quelling the bulk of the unrest in the capital, although violent protests in the Shuafat refugee camp were proving harder to dispel. Busloads of Israeli Arabs from the north of the country were prevented from entering Jerusalem to join in the demonstrations, while Bedouin residents from the southern town of Rahat announced plans to travel en masse to the city to vent their anger at the construction work in the Old City.
With relations between Israel and the United States said to be at a "35-year low", and any resolution of the decades-old conflict in the region looking as remote as ever, many observers are cautioning against dismissing the latest trouble as merely a storm in a teacup.
"If the situation remains at this level, regardless of whether we take the decision or not, [a third intifada] is coming", noted former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei. "If Israel continues these practices, it is coming".
The first intifada (uprising) began in 1987 and lasted for six years, comprising mainly civil disobedience and mass demonstrations. The second started in 2000, and was characterised by far greater violence. An estimated 5,500 Palestinians and 1,100 Israelis were killed during the five years it lasted. In both instances, frustrated Palestinian civilians joined forces with the militants in their society to rebel against Israeli rule after years of stagnation on the diplomatic front.
Seeking to up the ante today, Hamas officials called for their followers to carry out terror attacks inside Israel as retribution for the "desecration of Al-Aqsa", with other militant groups including Islamic Jihad demanding President Mahmoud Abbas resign in light of his failure to achieve meaningful results in negotiations with Israel.
Such statements are designed to sow discord among both moderate Palestinians and Israelis, and are an inevitable result of Israeli leaders' continued intransigence over concessions to the Palestinians.
Whilst Israel's incumbent government was elected on a ticket of enhanced security for Israeli citizens, the latest upsurge in violence across the West Bank and Jerusalem suggests it may find it hard to keep a lid on the situation much longer.
If the violent protests continue to gather pace, the spectre of a third intifada will loom larger than ever. ·
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