As Turkish influence grows in East Jerusalem, Arabs said to urge Israel to act
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As Turkish influence grows in East Jerusalem, Arabs said to urge Israel to act

Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Palestinian Authority reportedly call on Jerusalem to ensure Erdogan doesn’t claim a stake in holy city

Muslim worshipers hold Palestinian and Turkish flags following Friday noon prayer in Jerusalem's Old City's Al-Aqsa mosque compound on the Temple Mount, December 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)
Muslim worshipers hold Palestinian and Turkish flags following Friday noon prayer in Jerusalem's Old City's Al-Aqsa mosque compound on the Temple Mount, December 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)

Turkey is trying to extend its sphere of influence to East Jerusalem, according to a report Thursday, causing alarm in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority, which have urged Israel to act.

Amman, Riyadh and Ramallah are concerned that the move is an attempt by newly reelected Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to claim he is the custodian of the Muslim sites in the city, weakening their own interests and harming Israel’s, the Haaretz daily reported.

Officials from Israel’s security forces told Haaretz that they were aware of the situation and following it closely.

Turkish Islamic associations have lately been sponsoring activities and trips for thousands of people in East Jerusalem, the paper reported, and had a strong presence in protests around the Temple Mount.

Diplomats told Haaretz that Jordan began expressing its concern to Jerusalem over a year ago and accused the government of “being asleep at the wheel.” The Jordanians claimed that after Israel signed a reconciliation deal with Turkey in 2016 it was afraid of confrontation with Erdogan.

Relations between Jerusalem and Ankara imploded in 2010 following an Israeli naval raid on a Turkish ship trying to breach Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The raid, in which IDF commandos were attacked by activists on board, left 10 Turks dead and several soldiers wounded.

Israeli security officials confirmed to Haaretz that the Jordanians had contacted them but they rejected the criticism. They told the paper that the issue reached its peak a year ago when Turkish citizens would visit the Temple Mount waving Turkish flags and banners of Erdogan’s AKP party and start fights with the Israeli guards. The officials said that Israel arrested and deported the leaders of the group, and barred their reentry to the country.

An official told Haaretz that Israel was aware that Turkey was trying to extend its influence to Jerusalem, and was attempting to purchase property through its charities. He told the paper that the Palestinian Authority was concerned about Erdogan trying to muscle in, saying “they were not interested in having another landlord in East Jerusalem.”

The report said Riyadh is concerned that Erdogan will attempt to use his authority in Jerusalem to cement his increasing influence over the Arab-Muslim world, and will become its spokesperson in confronting Israel and the US regarding the city.

Last month relations between Israel and Turkey sank to a fresh low point after Ankara expelled Israel’s envoy, following deadly clashes on the Gaza Strip border.

Palestinians, backed by Arab foreign ministers, insist that Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Jordan, from whom Israel captured the Old City in 1967, sees itself as the custodian of Jerusalem’s holy sites and funds the Waqf Islamic Trust, which administers the Temple Mount.

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