Israel has opened the so-called "Hurva" (Ruin) synagogue in occupied Jerusalem (al-Quds) on Monday, in a move backed by the United States and ignited angry protests by Palestinians in the holy city and elsewhere in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Hamas announced Tuesday a "day of rage" a day following the opening of the synagogue a few hundred meters from the al-Aqsa Mosque in.
A joint Palestinian factions' statement read by Hamas' Politburo Chief Khaled Meshaal in Damascus on Monday, described the synagogue opening as "a declaration of war" because of its direct threat to the holy site. "It is part of a project to destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque" and replace it with Israel's so-called "Solomon's Temple."
Mashaal slammed Tel Aviv's "falsification of history and Jerusalem's religious and historic monuments." "Israel is playing with fire and touching off the first spark to make the region explode," he said.
Large Israeli occupation forces continued to deploy throughout the occupied city, with 3,000 policemen and border officers stationed in the area and in neighboring villages, where hundreds of Palestinians clashed with the occupation police early Tuesday.
Israeli police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at protesters who hurled rocks at occupation security forces in the Shuafat refugee camp.
In a video message to the opening ceremony, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu claimed that the synagogue brought a message of religious coexistence. "We permit believers of other faiths to conserve their places of worship. We proudly protect our heritage, while at the same time allowing others freedom of religion," he said.
Netanyahu’s speech came while Palestinian men under the age of 50 were barred from entering the al-Aqsa Mosque compound for a fourth day and will continue for the fifth day. Members of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee are set to hold a procession in the east of the city on Wednesday.
Israeli Housing Minister Ariel Atias used the occasion to stress construction in Jerusalem will continue. "We have thousands of housing units in 2010, and no government has allowed a dialogue about the right to build in Jerusalem," the Israeli minister said.
Palestinians both in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip closed ranks to condemn the Israeli move.
Head of al-Quds international institution, Dr. Ahmed Abu Halabiya, warned the opening of the synagogue in al-Quds was part of an Israeli plan "to build a Jewish temple on al-Aqsa ruins."
Hamas called on Arab and Islamic governments to shoulder the responsibility of protecting Al-Quds and the Aqsa Mosque. The movement also urged PA chief Mahmoud Abbas and his entourage to end the futile negotiations with the Israeli occupation government and to return to the ranks of the Palestinian resistance to confront the occupation and its schemes.
Senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Zahhar leveled scathing criticism to the occupation government saying: "You who are opening Hurva are heading towards ruin. Wherever you have been you've been sent to your destruction. You've killed and murdered your prophets and you have always dealt in loan-sharking and destruction," he said Monday, during a conference of Palestinian groups in Gaza.
"You're destined to be destroyed. You've made a deal with the devil and with destruction itself – just like your synagogue," al-Zahhar said.
He urged the Arab world to respond to "Israel's crimes and protect the sites that are holy to Muslims and Christians from the Zionists' racist onslaught."
Moreover, Political bureau member of Hamas Ezzet Al-Resheq said the synagogue served as a cornerstone for the Judaization of Jerusalem, warning in a press release on Monday the Israeli occupation authority of the repercussions of the aggressive policy against Al-Quds and the Aqsa Mosque.
Hatem Abdel Qader, the Palestinian Authority's official in charge of al-Quds affairs, expressed concern over what he described as "not just a synagogue." "This synagogue will be a prelude to violence, extremism and religious fanaticism, and that will not be limited to extremist Jews but includes members of the Israeli government," he warned.
The US State Department, however, criticized Palestinian comments for "mischaracterizing the event in question, which can only serve to heighten the tensions we see."
The US support for the opening of the synagogue raises serious questions over a purported dispute between Tel Aviv and Washington over the continued Israeli settlement construction. Some analysts argue that the ostensible tensions are to provide a cover for Israel's encroach upon Palestinian and Islamic identity of al-Quds.