US Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday that Israel and Jordan have agreed on steps aimed at reducing tensions at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem that have fanned Israeli-Palestinian violence.
The steps include round-the-clock video monitoring and Israel reaffirming Jordan’s special and historic role as custodian of the site, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif or the Noble Sanctuary, Kerry said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to announce details of the measures later Saturday, Kerry said after meeting Jordan’s King Abdullah.
The secretary said that the prime minister had agreed to “an excellent suggestion by King Abdullah to provide 24-hour video coverage of all sites” in the compound. “This will provide comprehensive visibility and transparency and that could really be a game changer in discouraging anybody from disturbing the sanctity of the holy site.”
He said Israel is pledging to maintain the rules of worship at the site, the site holy to Jews and Muslims that is a key factor in the current tensions, and that Israeli and Jordanian authorities will meet about bolstering security.
Kerry made the announcement after meeting in Amman with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
An Israeli political source said following the announcement that the security cameras would prove Israel was not behind the escalation in tensions on the mount, the Ynet news website reported.
“Israel has an interest in this in order to negate the claims that [it] is changing the status quo, and will show that the provocation is not coming from the Israeli side,” the source said.
“Israel has reiterated its commitment to preserving the status quo and expects greater effort from the Waqf in maintaining order inside the mosques” on the mount, he said. The Jerusalem Islamic Waqf oversees the administration of the Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount.
Abbas told Kerry on Saturday that Israel must commit to maintaining the status quo on the Temple Mount and prevent Jewish extremists from ascending to the contested site, according to the Palestinian leader’s spokesman.
The top American diplomat’s visit to the region is part of efforts to reduce the weeks-long cycle of violence between Israel and Palestinians. Kerry, Abbas and the king were exploring ideas, first raised during a Thursday meeting in Berlin between the American diplomat and Netanyahu, on how to defuse the situation. Following his meeting with Netanyahu, Kerry said he was cautiously optimistic about calming the situation. He has also said he would like to see clarity in the rules governing access to the Temple Mount.
The Palestinians claim that Israel is seeking to change the status quo on the Mount, referring to the decades-long arrangement at the Jerusalem hilltop, the holiest place in Judaism, which allows Jews to visit but not pray. The mount houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, and is the location of the two biblical Jewish Temples. Israel has vehemently denied that it is planning to make any changes to the status quo, and Netanyahu has accused Abbas of incitement for making such claims.
Speaking to reporters after the Abbas-Kerry meeting, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Saturday that Netanyahu had “changed the status of the Al-Aqsa Mosque — that’s why we and Jordan are asking the American side to re-establish the situation.”
“The king has guardianship over Al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy places and will not allow this manipulation by Netanyahu,” he said.
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 on Friday in Vienna.
They also issued a call for Israel to work with Jordan as historic steward of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Ten Israelis have been killed and dozens injured in a string of Palestinian terror attacks since the beginning of the month. At least 50 Palestinians have also died, many while carrying out stabbing attacks on Israelis, and others in clashes with security forces.
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