Turkey hosts meeting of pan-Islamic group over Jerusalem tensions

AFP , Tuesday 1 Aug 2017

OIC  meeting
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (C), Secretary General of OIC Yousef bin Ahmad Al-Othaimeen (R) and Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs Riyad al-Maliki (L) attend a press conference after the Executive Committee Meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on August 1, 2017 in Istanbul (Photo: AFP)

Turkey on Tuesday hosted a meeting of the main grouping of the world's Muslim nations to discuss the crisis that erupted last month when Israel imposed security measures at a key holy site in Jerusalem.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu chaired the extraordinary meeting in Istanbul of his counterparts from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) that Ankara had called in its current capacity as chairman of the body.

Turkey has full diplomatic relations with Israel after resolving last year a crisis in ties but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan remains vehemently critical of the Jewish state's policy towards the Palestinians.

The meeting brought together foreign ministers and top officials from key Muslim nations, including Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif whose rival nations are locked in a bitter feud.

Israel angered the Islamic world by installing metal detectors and security cameras at the Haram al-Sharif holy site in Jerusalem, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, following a July 14 attack in which gunmen killed two policemen.

The move sparked Muslim protests and deadly unrest, and last week the Israeli government removed the detectors and cameras. The site includes the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam.

"This was a small victory in the long battle for freedom," Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki told the meeting.

But he accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of seeking to change the longstanding agreement whereby only Muslims are allowed to pray inside the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, although anyone can visit, including Jews.

"Netanyahu will try again to impose his status quo and we should prepare for the next round which could come very soon and be very nasty," he added.

Cavusoglu said it was time Muslim countries started to help the Palestinians "not just with words but with actions".

"We must act to protect the Al-Aqsa mosque and Palestine," he said. He reaffirmed a call made by Erdogan on all Muslims to visit Jerusalem.

Last year Turkey and Israel ended a rift triggered by Israel's deadly storming in 2010 of a Gaza-bound ship that left 10 Turkish activists dead. The two sides have since embarked on a close energy cooperation venture to pipe Israeli gas to Turkey.

But Erdogan, who regards himself a champion of the Palestinian cause, is still often critical of Israeli policy. His comments on the crisis have been among his toughest on Israel since the reconciliation deal.

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