AMMAN/JERUSALEM (REUTERS) – US Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday sketched out steps, including Israeli-Jordanian video surveillance, he hopes may ease tensions over a Jerusalem site holy to Muslims and Jews, after weeks of violence in which dozens have died.
Speaking in Amman after meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah, Kerry said Israel had given assurances it had no intention of changing the status quo at the site, the third holiest in Islam.
Violence has flared throughout Israel, Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip in recent weeks. In part it has been triggered by Palestinians’ anger over what they see as Jewish encroachment on the al-Aqsa compound, which is also revered by Jews as the site of two destroyed ancient temples.
At least 52 Palestinians, half of whom Israel says were assailants, have been shot dead by Israelis at the scene of attacks or during protests in the West Bank and Gaza since Oct 1.
Nine Israelis have been stabbed or shot dead by Palestinians.
“I am pleased that (Israeli) Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu has reaffirmed Israel’s commitment to upholding the unchanged status quo of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, both in word and in practice,” Kerry said.
He praised the proposal by the Jordanian king, the custodian of the al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem’s walled Old City, for 24-hour video surveillance at the site and said Netanyahu has agreed to “an excellent suggestion.”
He said technical teams would meet shortly to work out how to implement the idea.
An Israeli official who declined to be named, said: “Israel has an interest in placing cameras across the Temple Mount in order to refute the claims that it is changing the status quo. “We are interested in showing that the provocations are not coming from the Israeli side,” he added.
Kerry said Netanyahu would address the issue later and that placing cameras “could really be a game-changer in discouraging anybody from disturbing the sanctity of this holy site ... (and will) provide comprehensive visibility and transparency.”
Netanyahu and Kerry met in Berlin on Thursday, after which the US top diplomat voiced cautious optimism a way could be found to defuse the tensions.
Standing alongside Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh in Amman, Kerry said: “Israel has no intention of dividing the Temple Mount, Haram al-Sharif, and it rejects completely any attempt to suggest otherwise.”
Judeh said: “Jordan not only supports, but demands, that there is an immediate restoration of calm and an end to all violence and provocative actions. It is in our interest, Jordan and the United States, to see things quiet down, calm down.”
In the latest violence on Saturday, a Palestinian was shot dead after he tried to stab an Israeli security guard at a crossing between the West Bank and Israel, Israeli police said. The Palestinian health ministry said he was 16 years old.
A 25-year-old Palestinian protester died of wounds he suffered last week when he was shot by Israeli troops during a border clash near the Gazan town of Khan Younis, a Gaza health official said.
On Friday, Israeli authorities lifted restrictions that had banned men aged under 40 from praying at al-Aqsa, a move seen as a bid to ease Muslim anger.
Palestinians are also frustrated by the failure of numerous rounds of peace talks to secure them an independent state in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war, and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
The last round of negotiations collapsed in 2014.
From Amman, Kerry flew to Riyadh, where he was expected to meet King Salman of Saudi Arabia, the Saudi crown prince, deputy crown prince and foreign minister.