Jordan’s King Abdullah has called on Israel to respect Muslim rights at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, in a meeting with Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz in Amman.
The meeting on Tuesday appeared to be a joint effort to lower Israeli-Palestinian tensions as the holy month of Ramadan approaches.
The Royal Palace said that the king “stressed that maintaining the comprehensive calm requires respecting the right of Muslims to perform their religious rites in the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque”.
Gantz discussed “the measures that Israel is planning to take in order to enable freedom of prayer in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria”, an Israeli statement said, using Biblical names referring to the West Bank. Their talks focused on “regional and security challenges”, it added.
The statement did not elaborate on any steps Israel might take to facilitate worship in Jerusalem, the site of Al-Aqsa Mosque, a friction point where confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli forces could trigger a wider conflict.
The meeting followed a two-day summit in Israel attended by the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Egypt, as well as US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
The Palestinians were not invited to the summit, despite the continuing Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories being a central feature of Arab-Israeli relations for the last 50 years.
While the Arab ministers convened in Israel, King Abdullah paid a rare visit on Monday to the occupied West Bank, where he held talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The king’s high-profile visit, his first in nearly five years, and Jordan’s absence from the ministers’ meeting, were reminders that the Palestinian issue has not disappeared from the regional agenda.
The monarch’s visit was widely seen as an attempt to avert any flare-ups in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem before Ramadan, and the Easter and Passover holidays next month – a volatile period in the past.
Raids by Israeli security forces on the Al-Aqsa compound, as well as attacks on worshippers, and the attempted eviction of Palestinian families from Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood during last year’s Ramadan helped contribute to the eruption of Israel’s 11-day offensive on the Gaza Strip in May.
Citing security concerns, Israel has imposed age limits on Muslim worshippers at Al-Aqsa during periods of tension and restricted Palestinian travel to Jerusalem from the West Bank, territory that it captured, along with the eastern part of the holy city, in a 1967 war.
Israel and Jordan maintain close security ties and have diplomatic relations, but relations have soured in recent years because of tensions over Jerusalem’s holy sites, Israel’s expansion of West Bank settlements and the lack of any progress in the long-moribund peace process with the Palestinians.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog is expected to hold talks with King Abdullah in Jordan on Wednesday, official sources told Reuters on Tuesday.
Although Herzog paid a clandestine visit last year after taking office, his trip to Amman would be the first official state visit by an Israeli president since the two countries signed a landmark peace treaty in 1994. The Israeli presidency is a largely ceremonial position.