Jordan’s prime minister on Monday said his government had decided to call off a plan to install surveillance cameras at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, derailing a US-brokered pact to ease tensions at the volatile hilltop compound.
Abdullah Ensour told the state-run Petra News Agency that Jordan was calling off the plan due to Palestinian concerns.
“We were surprised since we announced our intention to carry out the project by the reactions of some of our brothers in Palestine who were skeptical about the project,” he said. “We have found that this project is no longer enjoying a consensus, and it might be controversial. Therefore we have decided to stop implementing it.”
The decision came just days before the Jewish holiday of Passover — a time of increased activity at the site. The Temple Mount is revered by Jews as the site of the biblical Temples, and by Muslims, who call it the Noble Sanctuary. It has been a frequent scene of violence in the past.
In a deal brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry, Jordan offered to install the cameras last fall after clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces.
The Palestinians had accused Israel of secretly plotting to take over the site — a charge Israel strongly denies — while Israel pointed to videos showing Palestinian protesters using the mosque as cover while throwing stones and firecrackers at police. The idea was that transparency by both sides would help ease tensions.
But the plan quickly ran into trouble, with the Palestinians objecting to Israeli demands to place cameras inside the mosque. The Palestinians also said that Israel would use the cameras to spy on them.
Israel wants cameras installed everywhere in the compound, including in the mosques, to document the alleged hoarding of stones and weaponry by Palestinians in preparation for clashes with Israeli security forces. Jordan, the custodian of the shrine, only wanted cameras in open areas to show alleged violations by Israeli security forces.
Palestinians earlier this month placed notices in the Jerusalem compound warning of plans to smash any security cameras installed at the site.
The Jordanian decision could deal an embarrassing blow to Kerry, who had hailed the deal at the time it was announced last October and pushed behind the scenes in recent months for the sides to wrap it up.
There was no immediate reaction from the US, Israel or the Palestinians.
Clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli security forces erupted at the compound in September, preceding a wave of Palestinian terrorism and violence, including stabbing, shooting and vehicular ramming attacks that have killed 29 Israelis, two Americans, an Eritrean and a Sudanese since October 1. Some 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces in this period, most of them while carrying out attacks, according to Israeli officials.
Israel captured the Temple Mount, site of the biblical Temples, from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed the area, but it left Jordanian religious authorities in charge of the Muslim holy sites there. While Israel controls access to the holy site, Jews are barred from praying there.
Israel and Jordan have close but quiet relations in other areas, such as security coordination against Islamic extremists. Israeli and Jordanian officials have shied away from commenting about the cameras on the record, presumably not wanting to upset the delicate ties between the countries.