Jordan’s king says Amman preventing ‘Judaization’ of holy sites in Jerusalem

Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Saturday praised his country’s handling of the Temple Mount crisis in Jerusalem in recent weeks and said Jordan would continue to fulfill its “historic role” of protecting “Islamic and Christian holy sites” in the city and preventing their “Judaization” while ensuring the maintenance of the status quo at the sensitive compound.

Speaking to a group of local journalists, the Jordanian monarch said Amman worked continuously to “contain the ramifications” of Israel’s imposed security measures at entrances to the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock sanctuary, and to pressure Israel to roll back the installations and “through our common stand with our Palestinian brethren.”

Israel took the rare step of briefly shutting down the Temple Mount in the wake of a July 14 terror attack in which three Israeli Arab gunmen killed two Israeli police officers with weapons they had smuggled onto the holy site, and reopened it two days later with metal detectors and cameras in place.

The introduction of the new Israeli security measures, including metal detectors and cameras, set off near-daily clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces in and around the Old City, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It also triggered a boycott by Muslim worshipers who threatened not to return to the site until all the installations were removed.

Israeli security forces stand guard in front of Palestinian Muslim worshipers praying outside Lions Gate, a main entrance to the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem's Old City, on July 19, 2017(AFP PHOTO / Ahmad GHARABLI)

Jordan, the custodian of the Temple Mount, and the Palestinians heavily pressured Israel to remove security measures over the course of nearly two weeks of violence, which included a terror attack last Friday in which three members of family sitting down to Shabbat dinner in the West Bank settlement of Halamish were stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist.

Israel removed the new measures early Thursday, and Muslim worshipers returned to pray at the compound later that day. Friday prayers at the site ended peacefully.

The Jordanian monarch said Saturday that it was “important to stress the need to ensure full respect of the historical and legal status quo at the Haram al-Sharif to prevent the recurrence of such crises.”

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His Majesty King Abdullah II meets with directors of official media, chief editors of local newspapers, and a number of columnists 

“We are fulfilling our historic, political and legal role and providing cover to prevent the Judaization of holy sites, despite the magnitude and difficulty of the challenges,” he said.

The fate of the Temple Mount is an emotional issue at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even the smallest perceived change to delicate arrangements pertaining to the site sparks tensions. Under a status quo agreement in place since Israel’s victory in 1967 when it captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Israel provides security at the Temple Mount but a Jordanian trust administers the site. Non-Muslims are allowed to access it but are forbidden to pray there.

Israeli border police officers stand guard next to the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City Thursday, July 27, 2017. (AP /Mahmoud Illean)

Jews revere the hilltop compound as the Temple Mount, site of the two Jewish biblical temples. It is the holiest site in Judaism, and the nearby Western Wall, a remnant of one of the temples, is the holiest place where Jews can pray. It is also Islam’s third-holiest site after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Muslims believe the site marks the spot where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

Abdullah II also referred on Saturday to the diplomatic spat this past week between Amman and Jerusalem after the killing on Sunday of two Jordanians by an Israeli security guard near the Israeli embassy in Amman, including a teenager who stabbed the security officer in what the Foreign Ministry said was a nationalistically motivated attack. Israel said the guard opened fire in self-defense.

“A staff member at the Israeli embassy in Amman has shot two of our sons. We will dedicate all the efforts and resources of the Jordanian state to ensure that justice takes its course,” said the king, according to a translation in the Jordan Times.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on July 25, 2017,meets with Israeli Ambassador to Jordan Einat Schlein and security guard 'Ziv,' who shot dead two Jordanians as he was being stabbed by one of them. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Jordan had demanded the guard be questioned by its security forces, but Israel refused to hand him over, citing his diplomatic immunity. Only after US intervention did Amman relent, allowing the guard and the rest of the embassy staff to leave Jordan, which they did on Monday.

Jordan was also angered by Netanyahu’s warm welcome of the guard, who has been named only as Ziv, with the king calling for him to be tried. Abdullah accused Netanyahu of “political showmanship” and of using “this crime to score personal political points,” after the Israeli leader posted photos of himself embracing the guard.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on July 25, 2017 meets with security guard 'Ziv,' who shot dead two Jordanians as he was being stabbed by one of them at the Israeli Embassy compound in Amman on July 23. (Haim Zach/GPO)

The monarch repeated the sentiment on Saturday, saying Netanyahu was “required to honor his responsibilities and take the necessary legal measures to ensure that the killer is tried and justice is served, rather than exhibiting political showmanship in dealing with this crime to score personal political points.”

“Such conduct is utterly rejected and provocative. It angers us all, threatens regional security, and fuels extremism. It is absolutely unacceptable,” he went on.

On Thursday, Jordan charged the guard with murder in absentia and said the Israel embassy staff would not be allowed to return until a proper investigation was conducted. On Friday, Jordan gave Israel the results of its investigation into the shooting, and called for the guard to be prosecuted under international law.

Later on Friday, Israel announced it was opening a probe into the incident.

Jordanian protesters wave national flags and chant slogans during a demonstration near the Israeli embassy in the capital Amman on July 28, 2017, calling for the shutting down the of the embassy, expelling the ambassador, and canceling the 1994 peace treaty with Israel. (AFP PHOTO / KHALIL MAZRAAWI)

Also, Friday, Abdullah II thanked US President Donald Trump in a phone call for his administration’s role in helping to defuse tensions and stressed the importance of deepening US-Jordan ties “to avoid the recurrence of such crises,” according to a statement in the Jordanian press.

“Both leaders said they were encouraged by the efforts taken to de-escalate tensions and by the progress that has been made,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “They pledged to continue to stay in close communication. President Trump also emphasized Jordan’s important role in regional security.

Trump’s envoy Jason Greenblatt was dispatched to the region this week to meet with Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman in Jerusalem on Monday before heading to Amman for more meetings on Tuesday to help defuse the crisis.

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