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Kerry: Israel And Jordan Agree On Steps To Reduce Tensions

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 24/10/2015 Annum Masroor

ImageContent(562bff3ae4b0aac0b8fd22d7,562bfcb81400002b003c90ff,Image,HectorAssetUrl(562bfcb81400002b003c90ff.jpeg,Some(),Some(jpeg)),CARLO ALLEGRI via Getty Images,)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Looking to reduce tensions at a Jerusalem holy site that set off weeks of Mideast violence, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced Saturday that Israel and Jordan had agreed on steps, including round-the-clock video monitoring, to bring an end to the unrest.

But the announcement contained few details on how the monitoring system would work, and it was not immediately clear whether it would be enough to calm the unrest that has raised fears that the region is on the brink of a new round of heavy fighting. As of late Saturday, neither Israel nor the Palestinians had officially commented on the plan.

Capping days of meetings with leaders from both sides, Kerry said King Abdullah II of Jordan suggested the monitoring and that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted.

"All the violence and the incitement to violence must stop. Leaders must lead," Kerry told reporters in the Jordanian capital after meeting with the king and with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Clashes erupted at the holy site last month over rumors that Israel was expanding its presence at the sensitive Jerusalem shrine, revered by both Muslims and Jews. The violence quickly spread across Israel, and into the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the past five weeks, 10 Israelis have been killed in Palestinian attacks, mostly stabbings, while 49 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, including 28 said by Israel to be attackers and the rest in clashes.

ImageContent(562bff3ae4b0aac0b8fd22d9,562bfe971400002200c7ac38,Image,HectorAssetUrl(562bfe971400002200c7ac38.jpeg,Some(),Some(jpeg)),KHALIL MAZRAAWI via Getty Images,Secretary of State John Kerry holds a meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II at the Royal Palace in the Jordanian capital, Amman on October 24, 2015.)

Israel has repeatedly denied Palestinian allegations that it is trying to change long-standing understandings under which Jews are allowed to visit, but not pray at the shrine. Israel has accused Palestinian political and religious leaders of lying and inciting violence. Palestinians say their fears have been fueled by a rise in visits to the shrine by Jewish activists demanding prayer rights, including senior members of Netanyahu's coalition government.

Kerry condemned the incitement Saturday. The Palestinians counter that the violence is the result of nearly 50 years of occupation and a lack of a political horizon toward statehood.

The hilltop compound is a frequent flashpoint and its fate is a core issue at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is the holiest site in Judaism, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, once home to their biblical Temples. Muslims call it the Noble Sanctuary and believe it is the spot where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. It is the third holiest site in Islam and houses the Al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques.

Saturday's proposal, particularly Jordan's engagement, could go a long way in easing the tensions. Israel captured the holy site from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war. But under a longstanding arrangement, Jordan maintains custodial rights over the Muslim holy sites and since signing a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, has often served as a mediator. When similar tensions erupted last year at the same site, Jordan briefly withdrew its ambassador fromIsrael and tensions subsequently abated.

A senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity because Netanyahu had yet to comment publicly, saidIsrael welcomed the monitoring plan. He said Israel had nothing to hide and believes the cameras will "dispel the claims that Israel had violated the status quo."

ImageContent(562bff3ae4b0aac0b8fd22db,562bff131900002e00b94ced,Image,HectorAssetUrl(562bff131900002e00b94ced.jpeg,Some(),Some(jpeg)),Handout via Getty Images,In this handout photo provided by the Palestinian Press Office, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on October 24, 2015 in Amman, Jordan.)

Palestinian officials and representatives from the Islamic religious authority that oversees the compound were awaiting details and declined comment.

Kerry, who met with Netanyahu in Berlin on Thursday, said the leaders "expressed their strong commitment to ending the violence and restoring the calm as soon as possible."

"I hope that based on these conversations we can finally put to rest some of the false assumptions, perceptions" about the holy site, Kerry said. "Those perceptions are stoking the tensions and fueling the violence and it is important for us to end the provocative rhetoric and start to change the public narrative that comes out of those false perceptions."

In addition to the round-the-clock video monitoring, Kerry said the understandings included Israel fully respecting Jordan's "special role" as custodian of the site, its continued enforcement of religious worship at the site in which Muslims pray there and non-Muslims visit and its commitment not to divide the site and reject any attempt to suggest otherwise.

Kerry said video monitoring would provide "comprehensive visibility and transparency, and that could really be a game-changer in discouraging anybody from disturbing the sanctity of this holy site."

It remained unclear how the new arrangement will work, when it will begin and who will be doing the monitoring. It's also unclear if this will have any impact on violence that has since spread across the Holy Land.

The United Temple Mount Movement in Israel, an umbrella organization representing groups that seek Jewish prayer rights at the site, said it objected to Kerry's plans and vowed to take all actions "within the legal-democratic framework" to fight it.

On Friday, Israel lifted restrictions on Muslim worshippers after having barred younger Muslim men — seen by police as the main potential trouble-makers — from entering the compound on Fridays, the main day of prayer in the Muslim religious week. The site itself has been quiet for more than a week.

Elsewhere, however, the violence has continued. On Saturday, Israeli forces shot a knife-wielding Palestinian dead after he ran toward a crossing between Israel and the West Bank and tried to stab security personnel, the Israeli military said. Security camera footage showed the youth running through the crossing while holding a knife as security men took up positions to stop him.

The previous day, Palestinians threw a firebomb at an Israeli car in the West Bank, wounding a mother and her two children, one of whom, a 4-year-old girl, was badly burned.


Lee reported from Amman, Jordan.

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