Israel-Turkey fallout deepens over Al-Aqsa mosque

JERUSALEM - A fallout between Turkey and Israel deepened on Wednesday as the Jewish state hit back at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s criticism of its constraints on Muslims visiting a sensitive holy site in annexed east Jerusalem.

Erdogan welcomed Israel’s removal of metal detectors from the site but said it was “not enough”.

Israel installed metal detectors at entrances to the Haram al-Sharif mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, after an attack on July 14 that killed two policemen. But after protests and intensive international diplomacy to prevent further unrest, the Israeli government removed the detectors from the site.

“Israel took the right step to remove the metal detectors to help lower tension,” Erdogan said. “But is it enough according to our wishes? No, it is not.”

Erdogan said Turkey “cannot tolerate” constraints placed by its nominal ally Israel on Muslims visiting the site during the weekly Friday prayers.

Israel’s foreign ministry responded on Wednesday with a forthright statement.

“It’s absurd that the Turkish government, which occupies northern Cyprus, brutally represses the Kurdish minority and jails journalists, lectures Israel, the only true democracy in the region,” it said in a statement. “The days of the Ottoman Empire have passed.” Palestinians viewed the new security measures as Israel asserting further control over the site, which is central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Clashes broke out during protests, leaving five Palestinians dead. “The Israeli government want to destroy the Islamic character of Jerusalem with a new practice every day,” Erdogan said.

There were already tit-for-tat statements from both sides on Tuesday after Erdogan criticised Israel and accused it of “attempting to take the (Al-Aqsa) mosque from Muslim hands”.

The Israeli foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that his comments were “mind-blowing, false and distorted”. Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Huseyin Muftuoglu on Wednesday condemned Israel’s “arrogant” remarks.


EU court upholds Hamas terror listing

The European Union’s top court on Wednesday upheld the bloc’s decision to put Palestinian movement Hamas on its terrorism blacklist.

The European Court of Justice overturned a 2014 ruling by the bloc’s second highest court, saying it “should not have annulled Hamas’ retention on the European list of terrorist organisations”.

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, denounced the decision, which it said “has no bearing on politics”. “We will keep up our legal battle to have Hamas removed from the list of terrorist organisations,” a statement from the Islamists said.

The lower EU court sparked outrage in Israel and Washington when it said Hamas should be dropped from the list because the bloc had made the decision based on information from the media and internet.

But the Luxembourg-based ECJ said that in doing so, the General Court had “made an error in law” and it would now have to examine the case again.

However in a related ruling, the ECJ said Wednesday that the General Court’s 2014 finding that Sri Lankan rebel group the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) should not be on the terror list was correct.

The Hamas ruling came as a surprise since one of the ECJ’s senior lawyers had said in an opinion last September that Hamas should not have been included on the terror list because procedural mistakes invalidated the EU decision.

The court rarely rules against the advice of its top lawyers and there had been concerns that if the ECJ agreed with the General Court, then already tense EU-Israel relations would have been hit again.

The European Jewish Congress (EJC) said it welcomed the outcome as “an important political message in the fight against international terror.”

Israel regularly berates the European Union for being soft on terrorism and bluntly rejects EU criticism of its Jewish settlements policy.

The EU imposed travel bans and asset freezes on Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, after the September 11, 2001 Al-Qaeda terror attacks on New York and Washington.

Hamas opposed the sanctions from the start, arguing that as a legally elected government it has the right to conduct military operations against Israel.

Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007 and fought three wars with Israel, the last in 2014, which caused massive destruction and left more than 2,000 people dead.

The original 2014 ruling by the General Court annulled the EU sanctions listing on procedural grounds.

It said that rather than establishing independently that Hamas was a terrorist organisation, the European Council of EU member states had instead relied on publicly available information.

The EU member states then appealed that decision, believing the lower court “was wrong in its assessment of the way in which the Council relied on information in the public domain”. The EU maintains an active sanctions policy, targeting individuals, groups and states, including several other Palestinian entities.


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