Israel to take steps to calm unrest at holy site

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AMMAN: US Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday that Israel had agreed on steps to calm tensions over Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, at the center of Palestinian unrest, including 24-hour security cameras.

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Several hours later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated his pledge of “upholding unchanged the status quo of the Temple Mount,” as Jews refer to the highly-sensitive site, which allows Muslims to pray at the site, and non-Muslims to visit, but not pray.

But he did not expand on the measures that Kerry mentioned after meeting in Amman with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas.

The Kerry visit is part of a diplomatic scramble to defuse tensions many fear could herald a new intifada, or Palestinian uprising.

Kerry said Netanyahu had agreed to “an excellent suggestion by King Abdullah” — custodian of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem — “to provide 24-hour video coverage of all sites” in the compound, which is sacred to both Jews and Muslims.

“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.

The Israeli prime minister said in his statement that he welcomed increased coordination with the Jordanian Waqf that administers Al-Aqsa “including to ensure that visitors and worshippers demonstrate restraint and respect for the sanctity of the area.”

“We support the call for the immediate restoration of calm, and for all the appropriate steps to be taken to ensure that violence ceases, that provocative actions are avoided, and that the situation returns to normalcy in a way that promotes the prospects for peace,” said Netanyahu.

The latest wave of violence erupted over the status of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a site sacred to both Jews and Muslims that has long been a crucible for tensions fueling the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Muslims, citing a recent increase in Jewish visitors to the cite, some of whom secretly pray there despite this being forbidden, fear Israel is plotting to change the longstanding rules at the holy compound.

Netanyahu accuses Abbas of fanning the flames by making such accusations.

Clashes at the site between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in September spiraled into a wave of violence that has also seen knife and gun attacks against Israelis.

In the latest such attack a Palestinian tried on Saturday to stab an Israeli security guard in the West Bank and was killed, according to police.

“A terrorist, who arrived armed with a knife, tried to stab a security guard at the site. In response, the terrorist was shot by the security force at the scene and killed,” a police statement said.

Police said the alleged attacker arrived from the Palestinian side of the Al-Jalama checkpoint between the northern West Bank and Israel.

On Friday, more than 80 people were wounded in clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip during a “day of rage” called by Palestinian movements.

‘Lack of hope’   
Since the start of this month, 52 Palestinians and one Israeli Arab have died in clashes or while carrying out attacks.

Eight Israelis have been killed in attacks. One Israeli Jew and one Eritrean have been killed after being mistaken for attackers.

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.

In Tel Aviv, thousands of Israelis rallied to urge new peace talks with the Palestinians, on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish rightwing extremist.

The demonstrators chanted, “Jews and Arabs don’t want to hate each other” and “Israel, Palestine, two states for two peoples.”

Daniel Dojon told AFP he came “because the situation is crazy. I am not talking about safety but the lack of (political) progress, the lack of hope.”

The recent unrest is led by a new generation of young Palestinians frustrated with life under Israeli occupation and a stalemate in peace efforts, who no longer see their leaders as capable of improving their lot.

The most recent attempt to resolve the conflict collapsed in April 2014 amid bitter recriminations on both sides.

AFP

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