Palestinian president briefs Pope Francis on Israeli abuses against Muslim, Christian sites in Jerusalem
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas briefed Pope Francis on the current Israeli measures imposed on Christian and Muslim holy places in occupied East Jerusalem during a phone call on Tuesday evening.
Abbas said attacks against Christian and Muslim sites, especially the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Al-Aqsa Mosque, are on the rise.
He said the increasing hostility comes with the expulsion of East Jerusalemite Palestinians from their homes as Israel expands its illegal settlement projects, according to the PA's news agency Wafa.
Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it, in a move not recognised by most of the international community. More than 200,000 Jewish settlers live in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as the capital of their future state.
In April, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilus III in Jerusalem's Old City said that hardline Jewish settlers, known for trying to take over properties of Palestinian families, are waging a campaign for control of Palestinian Christian-owned lands.
About 300 Jewish settlers already live in the Christian Quarter.
The churches have voiced alarm about the trend, as well as acts of vandalism and anti-Christian aggression, arguing the problem extends beyond the ancient heart of Jerusalem.
On the outskirts of the Old City, on the Mount of Olives where several prominent churches stand, Israel plans to expand a park that will encroach on land belonging to Christian institutions.
The Al Aqsa Mosque compound, which Jews say contains remnants of two ancient temples, is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Under a decades-old "status quo" arrangement with Muslim authorities, Israel allows Jews to visit only if they refrain from religious rites.
Israeli extremists and security often violently storm Al-Aqsa Mosque's compound, the third-holiest site in all Islam and most-sacred Muslim place in Palestine.
Dozens of Palestinians were injured this Ramadan as security forces assaulted worshippers at the mosque.
Some of the Jewish extremists wish to demolish the mosque and build a temple in its place.