Lebanon's Aoun urges Arab unity to guard Jerusalem's diversity

AFP , Tuesday 14 Feb 2017

Lebanese President Michel Aoun urged Arab nations Tuesday to come together to protect the multi-faith character of Jerusalem, whose status is one of the thorniest issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Aoun called on members of the Cairo-based Arab League to "unite our efforts to preserve the character of Jerusalem, which brings together both Christian and Muslim heritage".

"Is it possible to imagine Jerusalem without Al-Aqsa mosque, and without the Church of the Holy Sepulchre?" asked Aoun, visiting Egypt for the first time since his election in October.

He accused Israel of trying to "Judaize Palestine".

On Monday Aoun, a Maronite Christian, met the leader of Egypt's Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, as well as Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb of Al-Azhar, the highest institution of Sunni Islam in Egypt.

He also held talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The Palestinians regard east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, while Israel proclaims the entire city as its capital.

Israel occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognised by the international community.

A campaign pledge by US President Donald Trump to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem dismayed the Palestinians.

The issue is expected to be discussed when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the White House on Wednesday.

Around 600,000 Israelis live in settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, communities considered illegal by the United Nations and most world powers.

The Arab League also denounced a draft law approved by an Israeli ministerial committee on Sunday that Muslims say is meant to silence the traditional call to prayer.

The organisation called it "a new attack" by Israel on "freedom of worship in Palestine and occupied Jerusalem".

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