October 24, 2015 / 12:38 PM / 2 years ago

Kerry lays out steps to ease Israeli-Palestinian strife

AMMAN/JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The United States on Saturday proposed steps, including 24-hour video surveillance, to end weeks of violence over a Jerusalem site holy to Muslims and Jews.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) speaks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (2nd R) after their meeting at Abbas' residence in Amman, Jordan October 24, 2015. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

Speaking in Amman after meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Israel had embraced “an excellent suggestion” by the king, who is the custodian of the site within Jerusalem’s walled Old City, for round-the-clock monitoring.

Kerry said Israel had also given assurances it had no intention of changing the status quo at the al-Aqsa mosque compound that is the third holiest site in Islam. Muslims refer to the site as the Noble Sanctuary, or Haram al-Sharif, Jews call it Temple Mount.

In a detailed statement, Netanyahu said Israel recognized “the importance of the Temple Mount to peoples of all three monotheistic faiths... and reaffirms its commitment to upholding unchanged the status quo of the Temple Mount, in word and in practice.”

He echoed Kerry’s statement that Israel would enforce its long-standing policy under which Muslims may pray at the site but Jews, Christians and members of other faiths may only visit but not pray, and that Israel had no intention of dividing up the compound.

Kerry said that Israeli and Jordanian officials would meet soon to work out the details of the video monitoring.

Authorities from both Israel and the Jordanian waqf, or Islamic trust, that administers the site, will also meet shortly “to strengthen security arrangements” at the compound, he said. Netanyahu said Israel welcomed greater coordination with the waqf.

Violence has flared in Israel, Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip in recent weeks, in part triggered by Palestinians’ anger over what they see as Jewish encroachment on the compound.

At least 52 Palestinians, half of whom Israel says were assailants, have been shot dead by Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza since Oct. 1. Nine Israelis have been stabbed or shot dead by Palestinians.

In the latest incident, a Palestinian was shot dead on Saturday after he tried to stab an Israeli security guard at a crossing between the West Bank and Israel, Israeli police said.

“Today I hope we can begin to turn the page on this very difficult period,” Kerry said, standing beside Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, who welcomed his announcements.

Netanyahu said Israel respected the “importance of the special role” played by Jordan as reflected in the 1994 peace treaty between the two countries and of the “historical role” of Jordan’s King Abdullah as custodian of the site.

“PROVOCATIONS”

A U.S. official told reporters it had not yet been decided who exactly would conduct video monitoring of the site, saying this would be discussed by Israeli and Jordanian technical officials when they meet.

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.

Standing beside Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh in Amman, Kerry said the cameras “could really be a game-changer in discouraging anybody from disturbing the sanctity” of the site.

In addition to the shooting of the Palestinian at the West Bank crossing, 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. The last round of negotiations collapsed in 2014.

From Amman, Kerry flew to Riyadh, where he met King Salman of Saudi Arabia and other senior officials.

Those talks were expected to focus on efforts to end Syria’s four-year civil war and on the crisis in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has led an Arab military intervention since March to try to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government and fend off what it sees as creeping Iranian influence.

Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Sandra Maler

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