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US dispatches top officials to region in bid to de-escalate

UAE summons Israeli envoy over ‘attacks on civilians, incursions into holy places’

As Abu Dhabi blasts Israeli response to Palestinian rioting on Temple Mount, Blinken holds marathon calls with Lapid, Abbas and Jordanian counterpart aimed at calming tensions

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Masked Palestinians take positions during clashes with Israeli security forces at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, April 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
Masked Palestinians take positions during clashes with Israeli security forces at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, April 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

The United Arab Emirates summoned Israel’s ambassador to Abu Dhabi on Tuesday over the recent Jerusalem escalations in what was the first such public rebuke since the two countries normalized relations a year and a half ago.

During the meeting, UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem bint Ibrahim Al Hashemy informed Ambassador Amir Hayek of Abu Dhabi’s “strong protest and denunciation of the events taking place in Jerusalem and [in] Al-Aqsa Mosque, including attacks on civilians and incursions into holy places that resulted in the injury of a number of civilians,” according to the official Emirati WAM news agency.

Hashemy was apparently referring to the conduct of Israel Police officers, who have entered the Temple Mount compound several times in recent days in order to quash Palestinian rioters. On Friday, officers entered Al-Aqsa mosque itself, where young Palestinians had stockpiled and were throwing rocks and fireworks. During the clashes that ensued, some 400 people were arrested and more than 150 Palestinians were injured.

A spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry confirmed the summoning but declined to comment further.

Hashemy stressed the need for Israel to “immediately stop these events, provide full protection for worshipers, respect the right of Palestinians to practice their religious rights and halt any practices that violate the sanctity of Al-Aqsa Mosque,” WAM reported, adding that the minister warned that escalations in Jerusalem threaten the stability of the entire region.

The Emirati minister also highlighted the importance of respecting Jordan’s custodial role at the Temple Mount. Employees of the Hashemite-funded Jerusalem Islamic Waqf are responsible for administering the site referred to by Muslims as Haram al-Sharif.

Amir Hayek. (Smadar Cafri)

Hashemy also called for fostering an environment that will allow for a return to negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders aimed at reaching a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a series of phone calls with world leaders aimed at lowering tensions in Jerusalem. They included conversations with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Blinken also dispatched Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Yael Lempert and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr to travel to Israel, the West Bank, Jordan and Egypt in the coming days for shuttle diplomacy meetings aimed at reducing tensions in Jerusalem, an official familiar with the matter tells The Times of Israel, confirming an Axios report.

Palestinians shoot fireworks at Israeli police in the Old City of Jerusalem, on Sunday, April 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean, File)

During Blinken’s Monday call with Safadi, the two discussed “the importance of Israelis and Palestinians working to end the cycle of violence by refraining from actions and rhetoric that further escalate tensions,” according to the State Department readout.

Blinken stressed that the US backs Jordan’s custodial role on the Temple Mount.

“Secretary Blinken emphasized the importance of upholding the historic status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount,” the US readout added, referring to the policy that allows Muslims to visit and pray at the site while Jews may visit but cannot pray.

The status quo has been increasingly strained in recent years, with Israeli authorities regularly standing by as Jews quietly pray during their heavily restricted visits to the site. Recent years have also seen a spike in the number of Jewish visitors to the site, many of them religious nationalists, despite the bar placed by most Orthodox rabbis on such visits because of the sanctity of the site for Jews.

Israeli police officers during clashes outside the Al Aqsa Mosque, in Jerusalem’s Old City, on April 17, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel insists that it is safeguarding the status quo and protects freedom of religion for worshipers at the Temple Mount and in Jerusalem more broadly.

During his Tuesday call with Blinken, Lapid told the secretary of state that Israel will not tolerate statements that appear to support violence around Jerusalem, according to the Foreign Ministry readout.

Lapid told Blinken that Israel has been working to ensure freedom of religion for “the three Jerusalem religions,” the Foreign Ministry said, referring to Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

He also emphasized Israel’s balanced and responsible efforts against the rioting by hundreds of Muslim extremists on the Temple Mount, and about gaps in information and false reports, distributed by extremists, stoking the flames and inciting violence instead of bringing calm,” the ministry said, without delving into specifics.

Palestinian rioters clash with Israeli police at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound atop the Temple Mount, on April 15, 2022. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Israel has accused Arab leaders of boosting tensions by pushing Muslim claims regarding the Temple Mount and claiming Israeli attempts to break a delicate status quo there. Israel extended sovereignty to the Temple Mount and East Jerusalem after capturing the area from its Jordanian occupiers in the 1967 war, but allowed the Jordanian Waqf to continue to administer the Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, and barred Jews from praying there. The Palestinians seek the area as the capital of an independent state.

The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism as the site of the biblical temples. Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest shrine in Islam.

An Israeli official told Army Radio that Blinken thanked Lapid for Israel’s efforts to de-escalate the situation.

In his own call with Blinken, Abbas blasted the “brutal attacks” by Israeli troops during the Temple Mount clashes along with the daily “storming of Al-Aqsa by settlers” and other violations to the status quo, according to the official PA news site Wafa.

Abbas stressed the importance of creating a “political horizon” for a resolution to the conflict and urged the “speedy” reopening of the US consulate in Jerusalem, Wafa said. The Biden administration pledged to reopen the office that served as the de facto mission to the Palestinians until it was shuttered by former president Donald Trump in 2019. However, efforts to follow through on the campaign pledge have hit a stand-still.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on May 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed, Pool)

Abbas lamented daily raids of Palestinian villages by the Israeli military, which he said “will lead to dire and unbearable consequences” if they continue, Wafa reported.

Israel has stepped up raids on terror suspects in the West Bank after a series of deadly terror attacks in recent weeks, including two — in Tel Aviv and Bnei Brak — carried out by West Bank Palestinians.

For his part, Blinken stressed that Israel has been informed of the need to maintain status quo at Al-Aqsa and allow access to Muslim worshipers.

According to the PA readout, Blinken also highlighted the US rejection of settler violence, home demolitions, evictions and Israeli army raids of Area A — something that hadn’t come up before in US talking points. Blinken also told Abbas he was urging Israel to take steps to improve the lives of Palestinians under its control.

Blinken indicated that he shares Abbas’ view regarding the need to create a political horizon, and until then, to hold talks aimed at improving Palestinian livelihood, Wafa reported.

Muslim worshippers wrapped in Palestinian flags pray during holy Islamic month of Ramadan in front of the Dome of the Rock shrine at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, Friday, April 15, 2022. (AP/Mahmoud Illean)

The State Department issued near-identical readouts of Blinken’s calls with Lapid and Abbas.

In both calls, Blinken stressed “the importance of Israelis and Palestinians working to end the cycle of violence in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza by exercising restraint and refraining from actions that escalate tensions, including at Jerusalem’s Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.” He also expressed his support for a two-state solution.

In the call with Lapid, he also raised the threats posed by Iran and its proxies and expressed the US commitment to Israel’s security amid recent rocket fire from Gaza.

To Abbas, the secretary “reiterated the US commitment to improving the quality of life of the Palestinian people in tangible ways.”

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