Jordan king calls Abbas to urge calm after PA chief approves mass protests

Jordan’s King Abdullah II urged Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to work to calm spiraling tensions Wednesday, hours after Palestinian factions, backed by Abbas, called for violent demonstrations Friday over the Temple Mount.

In a phone call, the two leaders “stressed the importance of continuing coordination to bring the situation back to what it was before the outbreak of the crisis and ensure that the historical and legal status in the Holy Mosque is respected,” according to a statement carried by the Jordan’s Petra news agency.

The official Palestinian Wafa news agency said the two “agreed to unify efforts and maintain consultations.”

Earlier Wednesday, Abbas approved plans by the leaders of the Fatah Tanzim militia to organize mass demonstrations on Friday and in the days after. Meetings on Wednesday took place between representatives of various Palestinian factions at the office of Fatah deputy chairman Mahmoud al-Aloul. Jabal al-Mheissen, responsible for the Tanzim on the Fatah central committee, and former Palestinian intelligence chief Tawfik Tirawi were at the meetings, along with the heads of Fatah’s regional branches in the West Bank. Abbas, who was not present, approved the holding of the meetings, their content, and the decisions that were taken.

The Tanzim, an armed militia loosely affiliated with Fatah, was a key player in violent demonstrations at the start of the Second Intifada in 2000. Its leader then was Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life terms in jail for orchestrating deadly terrorism during the Second Intifada.

Jordan, which acts as custodian of the Temple Mount and funds the Waqf Islamic trust that administers site, has played a key role amid the ongoing crisis, sparked after Israel installed metal detectors following an attack at the Mount on July 14 in which three terrorists used guns smuggled into the sacred compound to shoot dead two Israeli policemen guarding outside.

Israel early Tuesday removed the metal detectors and cameras, but Muslim leaders have vowed to continue protesting until all security measures, including metal railings at the Gate of the Tribes entrance to the site, are removed.

Israel’s decision to remove the detectors early Tuesday morning came after a flurry of diplomatic contacts between Jerusalem, Amman and Washington, which also resulted in the return of an Israeli guard who shot and killed two Jordanians at the Israeli Embassy in Amman after being attacked with a screwdriver.

Speaking to Sky News Arabic on Wednesday, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said there had been some progress in resolving the dispute over security measures “but the issue remains unresolved.”

“The popular stance on the ground says that there is no solution other than to remove all the measures and obstacles that have been put in place,” he added. “Jordan wants calm, but knows that in order for calm to prevail, the solution must be accepted by the people.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Abbas’s Fatah party called on Palestinians to take to the streets in Jerusalem and the West Bank in protest of the new security measures at the holy site, urging a “day of rage.”

Leaders of Fatah’s Tanzim militia met with Palestinian officials to take part in planning mass demonstrations this Friday.

Fatah’s youth movement issued a statement calling on Palestinians to remain “steadfast” in the defense of Jerusalem, and called for widespread participation in planned protests on Friday.

The “Shabiba” movement hailed Abbas’s decision to freeze all coordination with Israel, and promised “the expansion of the circle of confrontation with the occupation forces, isolation of settlements and the opening of all fronts, in villages, cities and refugee camps.”

The statement said the planned actions will target all settlements and roads leading to them.

Muslim worshipers participate in midday prayers in a parking lot near the Lions Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, refusing to enter the Temple Mount enclosure to reach the Al-Aqsa Mosque inside, July 25, 2017. (Dov Lieber /Times of Israel)

Senior Fatah leaders called to conduct Friday prayers in public places — not in mosques, in protests at continued security measures at the Temple Mount — as well as general readiness and “escalating” protests “in all of Palestine as an [act of] victory for the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

The Tanzim, an armed militia loosely affiliated with Fatah, was a key player in violent demonstrations at the start of the Second Intifada in 2000. Its leader then was Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life terms in jail for orchestrating deadly terrorism during the Second Intifada.

Hamas also joined calls to ramp up protests against Israel, calling for a “day of rage” in the West Bank on Friday, to “respond to the ongoing events in order to deter Israel from continuing its violations against our people and holy places,” according to Channel 2.

The groups made similar calls a week ago, leading to intense protests throughout the West Bank in which five Palestinians were killed and a terror attack by a Palestinian teen who stabbed to death three members of a family celebrating Shabbat in the settlement of Halamish Friday night.

The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and is revered as the site of the biblical temples. It is also the third-holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina, and is known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif. Under an arrangement in place since Israel captured Jerusalem’s Old City in the Six Day War in 1967 and extended its sovereignty there, non-Muslims are allowed access to the site but are forbidden to pray there.

Under this status quo, Israel is responsible for security at the site while the Jordanian trust — the Waqf — is in charge of administrative duties.

Avi Issacharoff, Dov Lieber and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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