Pope to meet Jordan’s King Abdullah amid Jerusalem tensions

Francis and Jordanian monarch set to discuss aftermath of US recognition of Israel’s capital

Pope Francis (2nd-L) is greeted by Jordan's King Abdullah II (R) and his wife Queen Rania (L) at the Royal Palace in Amman on Saturday, May 24, 2014. (Andrew Medichini/AFP)
Pope Francis (2nd-L) is greeted by Jordan's King Abdullah II (R) and his wife Queen Rania (L) at the Royal Palace in Amman on Saturday, May 24, 2014. (Andrew Medichini/AFP)

VATICAN CITY, Holy See — Pope Francis will meet Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the Vatican next week, the Holy See announced Friday, as Palestinians continued to clash with Israeli forces over US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The pope and King Abdullah, who is the custodian of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City, are likely to discuss the ongoing tensions, though the Vatican never indicates topics of discussion for such meetings in advance.

On Sunday, the pope called for “respect of the status quo” in Jerusalem and warned against “a new spiral of violence.”

Abdullah has denounced the Jerusalem announcement as “a violation of international rights.”

Jordan controlled East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, from 1948 until 1967, when it was captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War. Jordan’s status as the custodian of the holy sites was reaffirmed by the country’s 1994 peace treaty with Israel.

A picture taken from the Mount of Olives shows the Old City of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock shrine in the center, on December 6, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)

Jerusalem, which contains sites considered sacred by Jews, Christians and Muslims, is of huge importance to both Israel and the Palestinians.

Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, and his plans to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, has sparked anger in the Arab and Muslim world and let to protests in countries throughout the region.

The move has been welcomed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli politicians on both left and right.

In his White House address last week, Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites. He insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace, a new approach was long overdue, describing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality.

Until Trump’s announcement, Jerusalem was not recognized internationally as Israel’s capital, with countries maintaining their embassies in Tel Aviv.

Much of the international community maintains that the only way to forge peace is to have two states — Israel and Palestine — with Jerusalem as the capital of both and with borders based on the armistice lines from before the Six Day War.

The announcement of the meeting between Pope Francis and King Abdullah came as thousands of Palestinians demonstrated in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Friday for a second week against Trump’s decision, although the protests initially appeared to draw smaller crowds than the previous week’s.

Four Palestinians died after being shot in clashes, including one who stabbed an Israeli Border Police officer in the upper torso before being shot. The Palestinian Authority health ministry named him as Mohammed Aqal, 29.

Aqal stabbed and moderately wounded the Israeli officer, who was later reported to be in stable condition in the hospital. When officers noticed Aqal was wearing what appeared to be a suicide bomb belt, they shot him again, fearing he would detonate it, police said.

He was taken away by Palestinian medics and later died of his wounds, the health ministry said.

Another Palestinian was killed in clashes in Anata on the northeast outskirts of Jerusalem, the ministry in Ramallah said, naming him as Bassel Ibrahim, 24. It said he had been shot.

Two more Palestinians were killed along the Gaza-Israel border, the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said. They were named as Yasser Sokar, 32, and Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh, 29. The ministry said Abu Thurayeh, who had previously lost both his legs, was shot east of Gaza City in the north of the coastal enclave.

The Israel Defense Forces did not immediately comment. Earlier, the army said it opened fire on the “main instigators” of violent protests at the Gaza border after they failed to heed repeated calls to stop approaching the fence.

Terror group Hamas, which controls Gaza and seeks to destroy Israel, has urged a new intifada to liberate Jerusalem in the wake of Trump’s declaration, and told Palestinians to confront soldiers and settlers.

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