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Following Hamas footsteps, Abbas calls for protecting al-Aqsa

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas urges Palestinians to defend al-Aqsa Mosque by 'all means' following mass rallies by Hamas
Gazans protest Israeli intrusion into Al Aqsa mosque in Gaza on 17 October (AA).

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas on Friday called on his people to prevent Israeli settlers from entering Jerusalem's flashpoint al-Aqsa Mosque and use "all means" to protect the site, echoing similar but earlier calls by Hamas leaders in Gaza.

His comments came days after Israeli police clashed with Palestinian protesters demonstrating against Jews visiting the al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam's third holiest site.

"It is not enough to say the settlers came, but they must be barred from entering the compound by any means. This is our Aqsa and they have no right to enter it and desecrate it," Abbas said.

The Palestinian president was speaking at a conference in the West Bank town of Ramallah after a spate of clashes this week since a Monday confrontation between Palestinian youths and Israeli police.

Abbas insisted that defending al-Aqsa was tantamount to defending Jerusalem, which the Palestinians are demanding as the capital of their future state.

"Jerusalem is the jewel in the crown and it is the eternal capital of the Palestinian state. Without it, there will not be a state," he said.

"It is important for the Palestinians to be united in order to protect Jerusalem," he added.

Earlier on Friday, hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets of Gaza in a rally organised by the Islamist Hamas movement.

Leaving mosques after prayers in Gaza City, they chanted slogans pledging to defend the mosque  and waved green flags, the colour of the Islamist  movement Hamas that is de facto ruler of Gaza.

The rally was also attended by other Palestinian factions, including Islamic Jihad.

Ismail Radwan, a Hamas leader, called on "our people in Jerusalem and the West Bank to defend al-Aqsa.”

Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri said 5,000 people participated in Friday's prayers at al-Aqsa, which passed without event.

Police had barred men under the age of 50 from accessing the holy site to prevent disturbances.

On Wednesday, four Palestinians were arrested following clashes with police at the Old City site.

Two days earlier, demonstrators clashed with security officers when non-Muslims were to visit the site.

The site is the scene of frequent tensions and also houses the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine.

It is revered by Jews, who call it the Temple Mount, as the location of the biblical Jewish temples and considered Judaism's holiest place.

Non-Muslim visits to al-Aqsa complex are permitted and regulated by police, but Jews are not allowed to pray at the site for fear it could trigger major disturbances.

Jews pray instead at the Western Wall below.

Muslims fear Jewish presence at al-Aqsa is aimed at usurping the site.

On Monday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated that "Israel is committed to maintaining the status quo" there.

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