Showdown fear as Israelis block march on Jerusalem

Palestinian and Israelis were precariously poised last night between confrontation and peace-making. Urgent consultations were continuing backstage to prevent a showdown in the wake of Yasser Arafat's charge that the right- wing Likud government had "declared war" on the Palestinians.

Israel reinforced its guards to block thousands of West Bank Muslims from marching on Jerusalem today to worship at Al Aqsa Mosque, the third most holy in Islam and a symbol of Palestinian national identity. The old Green-Line border has been closed to most Palestinians since the suicide bombings in February and March.

Mr Arafat on Wednesday urged his people to defy the ban, in protest at Israeli foot-dragging in the peace process. Palestinian spokesmen repeated the call yesterday, in spite of Israeli appeals to think again.

Saeb Erakat, the Palestinian local government minister, said: "I think people should be entitled to worship in Jerusalem and the holy places of Muslims and Christians.

"We've been urging the Israeli government to lift the siege on Jerusalem and let people conduct their religious duties as normally as possible."

Hanan Ashrawi, the higher education minister, who represents Jerusalem in the Palestinian Legislative Council, blamed Israel for adopting an "aggressive and violent way." She added: "People have the right to go through and to reach the mosque."

Dr Ashrawi, a Christian, said if they were stopped, they would conduct mass prayers at the checkpoints. But the prospect of a more volatile scenario increased last night when Israel revealed that Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the jailed founder of the fundamentalist Hamas movement in Gaza, had been taken to hospital after falling ill. It was announced later that the militant preacher had returned to his cell after medical checks.

The Palestinians were further incensed yesterday by the news that Benjamin Netanyahu's government has authorised the construction of 2,000 more homes in existing West Bank settlements close to Jerusalem.

The work was approved under the last Labour administration, but was frozen so as not to jeopardise peace negotiations. Earlier in the week, the government approved an extra 900 homes for an ultra-Orthodox new town just across the Green Line.

The first half of Mr Arafat's protest passed peacefully yesterday. Shops, offices and businesses closed for four hours throughout the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. In some villages, the strike was enforced by Palestinian security men.

In Hebron,the last West Bank town still under Israeli occupation, a shopkeeper, Abed Nasser Adin, said: "It is our battle for Jerusalem, and I think it is now or never."

But as soon as the strike was over, the heads of delegation for the next round of Israeli-Palestinian talks met in a West Jerusalem hotel and agreed to begin negotiations next week. The teams will meet daily but an Israeli spokesman said last night that no day had been set for the opening session.

A more conciliatory Saeb Erakat, who leads the Palestinian team, said: "We look forward, as Palestinians and Israelis, for a message to save the peace process."

His opposite number, former general Dan Shomron, added: "There was recognition on both sides that we have to work out misunderstandings. We shall have continuous meetings, and the issues will be placed on the table. I think not only the atmosphere, but concrete advances in the future, will play a part in lowering the tension."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
News
news

The party's potential nominations read like a high school race for student body president

Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballI have never seen the point of lambasting the fourth official, writes Paul Scholes
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Technical Support Engineer - PC/Mac

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company are cur...

Ashdown Group: Product Manager - (Product Marketing, Financial Services)

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

Recruitment Genius: External Relations Executive

£33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An External Relations Executive is requi...

Ashdown Group: Web Developer (PHP & Wordpress) - Central London

£25000 - £28000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Web Dev...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee