High-level Israeli and Jordanian officials held talks Wednesday evening in an effort to end the conflict over a contested religious area on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
The longstanding closure of an area near the Golden Gate has ignited tensions between Palestinian worshipers and Israeli police in recent weeks. Worshipers have forced it open and entered on several occasions.
Jordan oversees the Waqf, the Islamic custodians of the Temple Mount.
The Israeli team was led by the head of the Israel National Security Council, Meir Ben-Shabbat, Haaretz reported.
Earlier in the day, junior officials from both sides held talks, during which Jordan offered that the site be closed for long-term renovations. While the Israelis agreed, they insisted it must first be closed without renovations taking place, as a statement of Israeli authority. This disagreement reportedly led to talks breaking down.
According to the report, another meeting between the head of the Waqf and the Israel Police commander for the Jerusalem District was canceled after the Waqf official received threats from extremist Palestinians who accused him of capitulating to Israel.
The cancellation of the meeting and the failed talks between junior officials led to the higher-level contacts later Wednesday.
Authorities are concerned that prayers at the Temple Mount on Friday, the busiest day of the week, could devolve into violent clashes over the dispute.
On Tuesday the Waqf rejected an Israeli court order to close the disputed area, which abuts the gate on the inside of the Temple Mount compound. Sheikh Abdelazeem Salhab, chairman of the Waqf Council, said that the area would “remain open for Muslims to pray,” despite Israel’s ultimatum to close the site by next Monday.
The area inside the Golden Gate, or Gate of Mercy, was sealed off by Israeli authorities in 2003 because the group managing the place had ties to Hamas, and it has been kept closed to stop illegal construction work there by the Islamic Waqf. The actual Golden Gate, which is a fortified gateway in the retaining wall surrounding the Temple Mount, has been bricked up for nearly 500 years.
Israeli officials believe the work carried out by the Waqf, which refused to allow any Israeli observers, led to the destruction of antiquities from periods of Jewish presence in the area.
Last month the Waqf reopened the site and Palestinian worshipers have begun to use it as a mosque, despite Israeli attempts to keep the area sealed.
The Waqf has repeatedly challenged the closure, convening and staging prayer-protests in the area that often erupted into clashes with police.
The Temple Mount, the holiest site to Jews, is referred to as the Noble Sanctuary by Muslims, who consider it the third-holiest place in Islam. The site is governed by a sensitive status quo agreement between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians.
In 2017, an Israeli decision to install metal detectors at entrances to the compound led to weeks of clashes.
Following continued clashes between Palestinian worshipers and Israeli police, Israel on Sunday banned Salhab and two other Islamic officials appointed by Jordan from entering the Temple Mount.
Agencies contributed to this report.