NEW DELHI: After a brief period of calm following Israel’s attack on Gaza this summer that killed over 2000 people, tensions have boiled over in the region, this time over the issue of access to the Al Aqsa Mosque. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday accused Israel of igniting a “religious war” by allowing Jews to visit the site. On the same day, a Palestinian protester was killed in clashes in the West Bank.

In fact, clashes between Palestinians and Israelis have increased, with two attacks this Monday -- three Israeli civilians were stabbed in the West Bank and an Israeli soldier was knifed in Tel Aviv. Last week, a Palestinian man killed two people when he plowed his car into a transit stop, the second such incident in many weeks. Police shot the driver dead.

The violence follows the shooting of a Palestinian-American teen by Israeli security forces, that led to widespread protests.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to crush "terror being directed at all parts of the country.” Speaking in Parliament, Netanyahu said, “"As far as they are concerned, we should not be in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or anywhere. I can promise you one thing - they will not succeed. We will continue to fight terror ... and we will defeat it together.”

Last week, Palestinians clashed at the entrance to al-Aqsa Mosque, with Palestinians alleging an illegal storming of the mosque as right-wing Israelis -- who have recently stepped up campaigning asking for Jews to be allowed to pray at the site -- were accompanied by 300 security forces. Palestinian officials said Israeli forces crossed the threshold of the mosque for the first time since 1967, while Israeli police have denied that they entered the building.

The incident has sparked regional outrage. On Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an called upon the UN Security Council take action against Israel’s “encroaching actions and violations” in regard to the compound that houses the mosque. Earlier, Jordan recalled its ambassador from Israel in a major blow to the countries’ relations. Jordan linked the unrest to the increase in Israeli settlement construction coupled with increased visits the mosque by Jewish ultra-nationalists under police guard.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday Israel approved plans to build 200 homes in a Jewish settlement neighborhood of annexed East Jerusalem -- an area racked by clashes. "It is a decision which is going to cause great harm,” Israeli city councilor Yosef Pepe Alalu told AFP adding, "This is terrible -- and in the middle of such a sensitive period.”

In fact, the current crisis in the region stems from Israel’s announcement to increase Jewish settlements. Netanyahu, in October, announced that Israel will be fast-tracking plans to build 1060 new apartments in East Jerusalem.

The announcement on settlements was an attempt to address the right-wing lobby in Israel -- specifically the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria and the Jewish Home Party, that have been pushing Netanyahu to speed up construction in East Jerusalem. East Jerusalem was occupied and annexed in 1967 -- and thereby, outpost construction beyond the 1967 line by Israel is a bone of contention between Israelis and Palestinians and constitutes what most of the world considers illegal settlements.

The United States -- Israel’s strongest ally -- immediately condemned Netanyahu’s announcement, saying it was “deeply concerned.” “If Israel wants to live in a peaceful society, they need to take steps that will reduce tensions,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokesperson said, adding, “Moving forward with this sort of action would be incompatible with the pursuit of peace.”

Palestinian officials reacted to the news with a warning that it could lead to unrest. “We believe such unilateral acts will lead to an explosion,” Jibril Rajoub, a senior figure in Fatah told reporters. “Mr. Netanyahu should not expect a white flag from the Palestinian people.”