A leading aide to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat addressed thousands of worshippers Friday at Islam's third-holiest site, telling them Jerusalem "will always be an Arab city," reported The Associated Press.
The sermon by cleric Yusef Salameh, during Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa mosque, was aimed as much at negotiators attending the Camp David summit as it was at the worshippers.
"I tell you, the Palestinians and the Arabs, we are here for more than 5,000 years, and Jerusalem is the only capital for the Palestinians," Salameh said. "It will always be an Arab, Palestinian city."
Arafat is at Camp David this week for a US-sponsored summit with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
The meeting is an attempt to bridge the gaps on core Israeli-Palestinian disputes: final borders of a Palestinian state, the question of whether Palestinian refugees can return to Israeli land and the future of Jerusalem.
The Palestinians are demanding a capital in Jerusalem's traditionally Arab eastern sector, occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.
Barak does not want to cede the whole sector, but he reportedly has offered Arafat a compromise centering on the Al-Aqsa mosque.
According to a report in the Maariv daily on Friday, Barak offered Arafat a "safe passage" - a contiguous area of Palestinian control from the Al Aqsa compound to outlying West Bank suburbs of Jerusalem that some Israeli officials have proposed could serve as a Palestinian capital, said the AP.
Arafat refused, Maariv said, insisting on full sovereignty in the eastern part of the city.
It was a message reflected in Salameh's sermon, and not lost on worshippers.
"Civil administration over east Jerusalem, as Barak has suggested, is not enough," said Ibrahim Shabalin, a laborer who attended services. "It must be under Palestinian sovereignty."
Barak is under pressure from conservative Israelis, who say the territorial concessions he is contemplating are too far-reaching to be achieved without further debate in the parliament.
On Friday, hundreds of Jewish settlers demonstrated at shopping centers and junctions, handing out stickers declaring, "Barak is losing the country." Barak supporters counter-demonstrated in similar numbers, the agency said - Albawaba.com
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