July 24, 2017 / 5:28 AM / 2 months ago

Israeli embassy staff in Jordan returned to Israel

A policeman is seen near the Israeli embassy in Amman, Jordan July 23, 2017. REUTERS/ Stringer

JERUSALEM/AMMAN (Reuters) - The staff of Israel’s embassy in Jordan, including a security guard involved in a shooting incident in which two Jordanians were killed, returned to Israel from Amman on Monday, an official from the Israeli prime minister’s office said.

Sunday’s fatal shooting incident tested already tense relations between Israel and Jordan, one of two Arab states with which it has peace treaties. Jordan had wanted to question the guard, who was slightly hurt, but Israel said he had diplomatic immunity and should be repatriated.

The security guard shot dead a Jordanian who stabbed him with a screwdriver in the Amman mission compound in an incident on Sunday night in which a Jordanian bystander was also killed, Israel said.

Israel’s foreign ministry said the security officer had acted in self-defense when he shot his attacker, a workman at the embassy compound whose father said he was 16 years old and had no militant links.

The bystander appeared to have been killed accidentally, an official told Reuters.

Israeli media had said the guard was holed up in the fortress-like embassy along with the ambassador and other staff while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent an envoy to try to defuse the stand-off with the Jordanians.

“The return of the envoys was made possible thanks to close cooperation which was held in the past day between Israel and Jordan,” said Netanyahu’s office.

The Israeli leader later thanked U.S. President Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner for helping bring the embassy staff home and Jordan’s King Abdullah “for our close cooperation.”

Trump’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, who arrived in Israel for meetings on Monday, continued to Jordan for further talks, a senior administration official said in Washington.

Israel censored overnight media reports on the incident in what it called a move to protect the diplomats from reprisals.

Israeli-Jordanian tensions have escalated since Israel installed metal detectors at entry points to Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem after gunmen shot dead two police guards there on July 14.

Netanyahu’s security cabinet was in session as the embassy staff made their way from neighboring Jordan and voted in the early hours of Tuesday to remove the metal detectors and replace them with other, less obtrusive means, a cabinet statement said.

The message released by the Prime Minister’s office included an audio clip of Ambassador Einat Schlein and the security guard, named Ziv, speaking to Netanyahu and expressing their thanks for the efforts made to repatriate them.

Jordan is the custodian of the Al-Aqsa complex and has a large Palestinian population, making Amman sensitive to any changes of status at the site which Israel captured along with other East Jerusalem and West Bank areas in the 1967 war.

EMBASSY INCIDENT

Israel’s foreign ministry said the Jordanian who stabbed the guard was at the embassy compound to replace furniture. “The security officer responded in self-defense,” the statement said.

A second Jordanian, who owned the rented property where the work took place, was accidentally shot dead by the guard, an official briefed on the incident told Reuters on condition he would not be identified by name or nationality.

The first slain Jordanian, Mohammad Jawawdah, was 16 years old and had no militant links, his father Zakaria told Reuters.

“My son was not a trouble-maker or a terrorist and he did not belong to any political parties,” said Zakaria Jawawdah, whose family has Palestinian roots. “I want to know how the investigation is going and know what happened and what led to the killing of my son.”

The Israeli embassy in the affluent Rabae district of Amman is protected by Jordanian gendarmes. It has long been a flashpoint of anti-Israel protests at times of turmoil in the Palestinian territories.

Violence against Israelis is rare in Jordan, a tightly policed country that is also a staunch regional ally of the United States. It also shares a long border with Israel.

Jordan confirmed there were Jordanian fatalities and a wounded Israeli in the incident but did not elaborate.

Israel and Jordan made peace in 1994. Relations plummeted three years later when Israeli spies were arrested in Amman after poisoning senior Hamas official Khaled Meshaal.

Jordan freed the would-be assassins after Israel delivered an antidote that saved Meshaal’s life. Israel also released Hamas’s founder and spiritual leader, Ahmed Yassin, from jail as part of the swap. In 2004, Israel killed Yassin in a Gaza air strike, saying he was behind a wave of Hamas suicide bombings.

Netanyahu was also prime minister at that time.

Writing by Dan Williams and Ori Lewis; Editing by Catherine Evans and James Dalgleish

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