Israeli 'provocation' over holy sites risks holy war: Abbas



BRUSSELS - Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas on Tuesday denounced Israeli "provocation" over two contested holy sites in the occupied West Bank that could unleash a "religious war".
Netanyahu sparked outrage in the Arab world on Sunday when he said he hoped to include Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in a national heritage plan.
"Such provocation cannot contribute positively to the progress of the peace process," Abbas said, through an interpreter, following talks with EU parliament president Jerzy Buzek in Brussels.



Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas
Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas
"This could provoke a religious war" Abbas warned earlier, in comments to the Belgian Senate.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, where the biblical patriarch Abraham is believed buried, is sacred to both Muslims and Jews and has long been the scene of tensions.
Netanyahu's remarks had already drawn protests from Jordan, Egypt and Syria.
Netanyahu's office late Tuesday accused Abbas of launching a "hypocritical campaign" saying that the ancestors of Israelis were buried there for more than 3,500 years and the sites deserved to be preserved.
The Islamist Hamas movement has also denounced the Israeli plan which they also see as provocation against Muslims.
Abbas, thanking the European Union for its financial and other support, said the EU "understands the real nature of this Israeli provocation."
"We believe indeed that negotiations are the only way to achieve peace," Abbas told reporters while reiterating his stance that Middle East peace talks cannot resume until Israel puts an end to the expansion of Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories.
The creation of an independent Palestine is a "vital interest" for Israel, Abbas told the Belgian senators and deputies.
Abbas said that an appeal by the European Union in December for Jerusalem to become the future capital of two states, as part of a negotiated settlement, marked "the start of a political role" for the EU in the region.
"I would like the United States to adopt" such a declaration, he added.
The Palestinian leader singled out the "very good position" taken by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who has floated the idea of granting international recognition to a Palestinian state even before Israel has agreed on its borders.
"However I can't say that it reflects the French position," he added.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who met Abbas in Paris on Monday, did not reprise his foreign minister's remarks, calling them "an idea for the future".
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Wednesday, February 24th 2010
AFP
           


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