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US official retracts comment blaming Israel for terror wave

State Department spokesman said Temple Mount ‘status quo has not been observed, which has led to a lot of the violence’

View of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, September 29, 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
View of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, September 29, 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The spokesman of the US State Department on Thursday retracted a statement indicating the latest outbreak of violence in Israel and the West Bank was a result of Israel violating the status quo on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

Asked in a press briefing Wednesday if it was the Obama administration’s “position that the status quo at the Temple Mount has been broken,” spokesman John Kirby replied, “Well, certainly, the status quo has not been observed, which has led to a lot of the violence.”

In an answer to a previous question on whether Israeli visits to the Temple Mount constituted “incitement,” Kirby said that US Secretary of State John Kerry wanted the status quo “restored.”

“What the secretary has said and stands by is that we want to see the status quo restored, the status quo arrangement there on Haram al-Sharif and the Temple Mount, and for both sides to take actions to de-escalate the tensions,” Kirby said.

US State Department Spokesman John Kirby. (AP/Susan Walsh)
US State Department Spokesman John Kirby. (AP/Susan Walsh)

A few hours later, Kirby posted a clarification on Twitter, saying, “I did not intend to suggest that status quo at Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif has been broken.”

He added, “We welcome both Israel’s & Jordan’s commitment to continued maintenance of status quo at Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif.”

The status quo refers to a five-decade-old arrangement at the site — holy to both Jews and Muslims — under which the Wakf, the Islamic trust, administers the site, while Israel has responsibility for security. Muslims are allowed to pray there; Jews may visit but not pray.

Palestinian and some Israeli Arab leaders, including most recently Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, have accused Israel of seeking to change the arrangement on the Temple Mount and curtail Muslim access to the site, a charge Israel has repeatedly denied.

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