Israel’s prime minister has assured Jordan’s king over the phone that he would not yield to increasing demands by Jewish hardliners to allow Jews to pray at a Muslim-run holy site in Jerusalem.
The phone call between Benjamin Netanyahu and King Abdullah II on Thursday came a day after Jewish settlers, protected by more than 300 Israeli security forces, stormed the al-Aqsa Mosque, triggering clashes between Israeli riot police and Palestinians worshippers.
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The escalation prompted Jordan, which is the custodian of the compound housing the mosque, to recall its ambassador to Israel in protest against what it called “unacceptable” Israeli police assault on the sacred site.
“I explained to him that we’re keeping the status quo on the Temple Mount and that this includes Jordan’s traditional role there,” Netanyahu said, using Israel’s name for the compound.
In recent weeks there have been near-daily clashes between the stone-throwing Palestinians and Israeli riot police in occupied East Jerusalem. Some of the attacks have turned deadly.
The unrest was triggered by Muslim fears of Jewish encroachment at the sacred site, a hilltop plateau known to Muslims as Haram as-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, and to Jews as the Temple Mount.
Since Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967, Jewish worshippers have been allowed to visit – but not pray – at the site.
Abdullah, the head of one of only two Arab countries at peace with Israel, stressed Jordan’s rejection of “any measures harming the al-Aqsa Mosque and its sanctity”, according to a statement issued by the palace in Amman.
Despite the diplomatic rapprochement, Al Jazeera’s correspondent said the situation on the ground did not calm down.
“There is still a lot of tension and a huge police presence here,” Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from Jerusalem, said on Thursday.
As Netanyahu spoke, around 150 Jewish hardliners gathered near the Old City for a march to the gates of what they called Temple Mount.
“We are proudly marching with high heads to the direction of the Temple Mount. God willing, we’ll get there,” organiser Ariel Groner told the AFP news agency at the site where a Palestinian recently tried to assassinate Yehuda Glick, a far-right campaigner for Jewish prayer rights at the compound.
Azzam Khabib, director of the Waqf, the Muslim religious authority in charge of al-Aqsa site, said he and other Muslim figures had uged Israel not to allow non-Muslims into the site to avoid confrontations.
He called Wednesday’s storming of the mosque by Jewish settlers backed by security forces “unprecedented”.
The Israeli police “went deep inside wearing their shoes and almost reached the altar inside,” he said.
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Khabib said that over the past 15 years, the number of Jews visiting the site has expanded from three or four to more than 50 per day.
Israel, meanwhile, frequently restricts Muslim access to the mosque as a security measure.
Late on Thursday, Israeli police said they would prevent men under 35 from entering the revered compound for Friday prayers, after intelligence indicating “Arab youths intended to disrupt order” following services.
Jerusalem has been seething for months, since the July murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a teenager from Shuafat who was burned alive in a revenge attack for the killing of three Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank.
On Wednesday, a Palestinian motorist drove a minivan into a crowd waiting for a train, killing two people and wounding 13 others.