DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates on Monday warned that any moves to change the historic identity of Jerusalem threaten peace, and called on Israel to put an end to violence following the latest clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in the city.
The statement was a rare rebuke of Israel by the UAE, which has welcomed tens of thousands of Israeli tourists and signed a slew of deals to strengthen bilateral ties since the administration of President Donald Trump brokered a historic and surprise deal to normalize relations between the two countries some seven months ago. The UAE move laid the path for Bahrain and Sudan to also formalize ties with Israel.
The UAE Foreign Ministry said in a statement, carried on the Emirates’ state news agency, that it was concerned over ”acts of violence committed by right-wing extremist groups in the occupied East Jerusalem.” The ministry called on Israeli authorities to “assume responsibility toward de-escalation and putting an end to all aggressions and practices that perpetuate tension and hostility.”
The UAE cautioned it was necessary to preserve Jerusalem’s historical identity and maintain “maximum self-restraint to avoid the region slipping into new levels of instability in a way that threatens peace.”
The immediate spark for the unrest was Israel’s decision to barricade a plaza outside of Jerusalem’s Old City where Palestinian residents traditionally gather in the evenings during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The move deepened Palestinian concerns about Israel’s control over east Jerusalem, which is home to sacred Jewish and Muslim sites.
Hundreds of young Palestinian took to the streets each evening to protest the barricades. Crowds hurled stones, firebombs and other objects at police, while officers used stun grenades and water cannons to disperse them.
The Israeli decision appeared to have been reversed late Sunday, when the barricades were suddenly removed. The violence had escalated to cross-border fighting between Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas group.
Also last week, a far-right Israeli group called Lehava staged a massive demonstration, with demonstrators chanting “Death to Arabs” and “Arabs Get Out,” just a few hundred meters (yards) from the Palestinian crowds.
Two other Mideast countries with longstanding diplomatic ties with Israel had earlier called on Israel to end the violence. Jordan, which acts as the custodian over Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites, and Egypt urged Israel in a joint statement to “stop all attacks and provocative measures” in the city.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war. The United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital under the Trump administration. Palestinians, however, claim east Jerusalem as the capital for a future Palestinian state.