Israel must maintain Temple Mount status quo, Abbas tells Kerry

In Amman meeting, PA president says Jerusalem needs to prevent ‘confrontational settlers’ from accessing the flashpoint site

US Secretary of State John Kerry meets with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman on October 24, 2015. (AFP/ POOL/CARLO ALLEGRI)
US Secretary of State John Kerry meets with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman on October 24, 2015. (AFP/ POOL/CARLO ALLEGRI)

AMMAN, Jordan — Israel must commit to maintaining the status quo on the Temple Mount and prevent Jewish extremists from ascending to the contested site, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told US Secretary John Kerry in Amman Saturday at a meeting aimed at exploring ideas on how to restore calm after weeks of near-daily Palestinian terror attacks and Israeli-Palestinian clashes.

“Keeping the status quo and stopping confrontational settlers from accessing the site are among the first steps Israel should take” to ease tensions, Abbas told Kerry, according to PA spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh.

Rudeineh said Abbas emphasized that the ball was in Israel’s court and that the Palestinians would “have to see what steps Israel takes before any move on our part.”

The meeting with Kerry was also attended by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Palestinian Intelligence chief Majed Faraj.

The Temple Mount is a frequent flashpoint and its fate is a core issue at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is the holiest site in Judaism, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, once home to the biblical Temples.

Muslims call it the Noble Sanctuary and believe it is the spot where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. It is the third holiest site in Islam and houses the Al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques.

The Palestinians have charged that Israel is trying to change long-standing understandings, in place since 1967, under which Jews are allowed to visit, but not pray, at the site.

Those fears have also been fueled by a rise in visits by Jewish activists demanding prayer rights, including by some members of Netanyahu’s coalition government.

Israel has repeatedly and vehemently denied Palestinian allegations that it is trying to change the status quo and has accused Palestinian political and religious leaders of lying and inciting to violence.

The site is managed by an Islamic foundation under the auspices of Jordan — the Waqf — but Israel, which captured the area in the 1967 war, controls access.

Before their meeting, Kerry and Abbas expressed hope that a solution could be found in brief comments to reporters.

After seeing Abbas, Kerry met the Jordanian monarch. Neither spoke to reporters as they began their talks.

On Thursday, Kerry met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Berlin to discuss ways to defuse tensions.

On Friday in Vienna, Kerry, his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon — members of the Middle East peacemaking Quartet — appealed for “maximum restraint” after talks.

Over the past five weeks, 10 Israelis have been killed in Palestinian attacks and over 50 Palestinians killed by Israeli fire, including at least 28 attackers.

Kerry will later Saturday fly to Saudi Arabia for talks with Saudi King Salman.

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