Israel, Palestinians agree to steps to calm Jerusalem tensions, Kerry says

AMMAN (Reuters) – Israel and the Palestinians have pledged to take concrete steps to calm tensions around Jerusalem’s holiest site, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday after talks in the Jordanian capital.

Violence has flared in recent weeks over the compound, revered by Muslims as Noble Sanctuary, where al-Aqsa mosque stands, and by Jews as the Temple Mount, where their biblical temples once stood.

Clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians have raised fears they could trigger a new Palestinian uprising.

All parties had agreed to “specific and practical actions that both sides can take to restore calm,” said Kerry, declining to say what those actions were.

“Today, we are working to smother the sparks of immediate tension so that they don’t become a fire that is absolutely out of control,” Kerry added, flanked by Jordanian Foreign Minister Naser Judeh. Jordan has custody over the sites.

He spoke after an unusual, nearly three-hour meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi joined in over the phone and promised to encourage resumption of collapsed Palestinian-Israeli talks, Kerry added.

Kerry met earlier in the day with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. But Abbas did not attend the three-way meeting with Netanyahu, a sign of deep distrust between Israel and the Palestinians.

Ultra-nationalists in Israel are challenging a decades-long ban on Jews praying at the Temple Mount. But Judeh said Netanyahu had showed “commitment” to maintaining the status quo at the site and respecting the Jordanian monarchy’s custodianship of holy sites.

Judeh said Jordan would not return its ambassador to Tel Aviv, whom it recalled last week in protest against Israeli actions, until it saw concrete evidence of measures to defuse tensions.

“Israel has to remove all the elements of instability that we are seeing. We have to wait and see if this is done,” he said.

Earlier, Abdullah accused Israel of “repeated attacks” on holy sites in Jerusalem and said they must stop. Jordanian religious officials who administer the Muslim sites have said there has been an unprecedented number of raids by ultra nationalists inside the mosque this year. Netanyahu has accused Palestinians in the West Bank of fomenting violence.

Jordanian officials fear wider unrest in the West Bank could spill over into their own country, where a majority of the population are descendents of Palestinians who fled across the river Jordan following the creation of Israel in 1948.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Editing by Angus MacSwan and Andrew Heavens)-thestar

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