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Israel risks religious war - Abbas

The Palestinian president has accused Israel of provoking a "religious war" as new violence between the sides broke out in the West Bank.

A Palestinian man was killed today as concerns mount that the long-running conflict is entering a new and dangerous phase.

Mahmoud Abbas blamed the latest tensions on a series of visits by Jewish worshippers to Jerusalem's most sensitive holy site.

The visits to the contested site have helped fan strife in a region already on edge following this summer's war in the Gaza Strip and the earlier failure of US peace efforts.

Mr Abbas' remarks - at a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat - came as Israeli troops shot a Palestinian demonstrator dead in clashes in the West Bank.

The shooting happened a day after a Palestinian from the West Bank city of Nablus stabbed and killed a 20-year-old Israeli soldier at a crowded Tel Aviv train station.

Another Palestinian assailant yesterday stabbed three people at a bus stop next to a West Bank settlement, killing a 25-year-old Israeli woman and wounding two others.

Much of the recent unrest has stemmed from tensions surrounding the holy site in Jerusalem's Old City, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

It is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the gold-topped Dome of the Rock, the third-holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. It is also revered as the location of the biblical temples, the most sacred place in Judaism.

Palestinians in east Jerusalem have carried out violent protests, alleging that Jewish zealots are secretly trying to gain control of the site. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, as their capital.

While Jews are permitted to visit the hilltop compound, they are not supposed to pray. Palestinian fears have been heightened by an increased number of visits by Jewish hard-liners.

There have also been calls by members of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition for an expanded Jewish presence there.

Palestinians also object to Israeli restrictions on Muslims entering the compound, with Israel saying they are security measures.

In an address to thousands of people at his West Bank headquarters, Mr Abbas accused Israel of trying to divide the mosque compound, comparing it to the experience of a holy site in the West Bank that was split between Jewish and Muslim sides after an Israeli settler gunned down 29 Muslim worshippers there 20 years ago.

"Leaders of Israel make a mistake if they think they can divide the Al-Aqsa Mosque as they have done in Ibrahimi Mosque, and they will retreat from this one too," he said.

"By dividing the mosques they are leading us to a religious war and no one, Muslim or Christian, will accept that Jerusalem be theirs. Jerusalem is our capital and there will be no concessions."

Following yesterday's deadly attacks in the West Bank and Tel Aviv, Israel said it was stepping up security in an attempt to forestall further incidents.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said several police units had been mobilised in major Israeli cities, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and were being deployed "in public places".

The Israeli military said it sent reinforcements to the West Bank, following what it called "new security assessments".

"I think these reinforcements will calm the situation down," said Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon.

Today's clashes erupted near the city of Hebron where about 150 Palestinian demonstrators were throwing rocks and firebombs at Israeli soldiers, the army said.

The soldiers' attempts to disperse the crowd using tear gas and rubber bullets failed, prompting the troops to open fire, the military said.

The Mezan Hospital said the dead man was a 21-year-old resident of the al-Aroub refugee camp near Hebron.

Israeli media are debating whether the country is on the verge of a new Palestinian uprising or intifada, similar to those from the late 1980s and the first decade of the 2000s that took hundreds of lives.

"This is the same soundtrack that we all remember from the days of the intifadas," wrote Alex Fishman in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper.


From Belfast Telegraph