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Leaders agree ways to reduce tensions around holy sites

30 October 2015


Patrolling: Israeli paramilitary police at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, also the site of the Jewish Temple Mount

Patrolling: Israeli paramilitary police at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, also the site of the Jewish Temple Mount

A PACKAGE of measures agreed by the United States, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian leadership last weekend, to reduce tension around holy sites in the old city of Jerusalem, has failed to stop violence there and in the West Bank. The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, met King Abdullah of Jordan (custodian of the Muslim sites in Jerusalem) in Amman and the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr Kerry said that the three men had agreed on “an excellent suggestion” from King Abdullah to set up 24-hour surveillance cameras at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem (Islam’s third holiest site), which is also the site of the Jewish Temple Mount. Palestinians accuse Israel of wanting to alter rules that prevent Jews’ praying on the Muslim sites. An Israeli official was quoted by Reuters as saying that “Israel has an interest in placing cameras across the Temple Mount in order to refute the claims that it is changing the status quo.”

The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that his country recognised “the importance of the Temple Mount to peoples of all three monotheistic faiths . . . and reaffirms its commitment to upholding, unchanged, the status quo” there, in word and practice.

But, on Tuesday, the Palestinian religious authorities in Jerusalem accused Israeli police of preventing the setting up of cameras. The police said that the issue was still being discussed at a diplomatic level.

The installation of the surveillance system may help to ease tension around the al-Aqsa compound, but it is unlikely to bring to an end to the frustration felt by young Palestinians, which continues to erupt in the form of attacks on Israelis. On Monday, in separate incidents, two Israeli soldiers were wounded in stabbings. In each case, the Palestinian attacker was shot dead. The previous day, a Palestinian woman who tried to stab Israeli soldiers in Hebron was also shot and killed.

In a similar incident in Jenin, a young Palestinian man was shot dead by Israeli troops, and clashes were reported in Bethlehem, Ramallah, and elsewhere in the West Bank.

The atmosphere in the Holy Land has not been improved by Israeli media reports, quoting government officials, which said that Mr Netanyahu was considering revoking the residency status of some 80,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem who live beyond the West Bank separation barrier. A White House spokesman, seeking to ease Palestinian concern, said that the Israeli government was not yet actively considering this change. He also reiterated the “importance of all sides’ avoiding provocative actions and rhetoric”.

Mr Kerry, speaking in Amman after the meeting last weekend, said that he hoped the package of measures agreed there would enable all sides to “begin to turn the page on this very difficult period”. But such are the levels of fear and mistrust that most Palestinians and Israelis would no doubt have agreed that it was, indeed, a case more of hope than expectation.

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