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US, Israel, Jordan Leaders Discuss Easing Jerusalem Tensions

by VOA News November 13, 2014

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry mounted a diplomatic push Thursday to calm rising tensions in Jerusalem with talks in Amman with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan's King Abdullah.

The evening discussion in the Jordanian capital sought to soothe diplomatic relations between the two allied Mideast nations that have grown frosty in recent weeks over what Amman has described as heavy-handed tactics by Israeli authorities against Muslims seeking to pray at the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

Last week, Jordan recalled its ambassador to Israel to protest what it called "unacceptable" Israeli raids at the mosque and in East Jerusalem.

Kerry, Abbas meet

The meeting at the king's palace came hours after talks between Kerry and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Kerry and Abbas reportedly discussed rebuilding efforts in the Gaza Strip, where Israeli airstrikes destroyed entire neighborhoods during a 50-day war that also left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead.

The meeting at Abbas' residence in Amman came hours after new clashes occurred in east Jerusalem. Israeli police fired tear gas, percussion bombs and rubber bullets to disperse Palestinian demonstrators.

Violence has flared in the past few weeks over Jerusalem's most sacred and politically sensitive site, revered by Muslims as Noble Sanctuary, where al-Aqsa mosque stands, and by Jews as the Temple Mount, where their biblical temples once stood.

Tensions over the compound, the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest place in Judaism, have fuelled repeated clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians in recent weeks, culminating in a one-day closure of the mosque last month.

In a move likely to further heighten tensions around the Al-Aqsa compound, Israel's Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said late Wednesday that he would reinstall metal detectors at the entrances along with new facial-recognition technology.

Rising violence, tensions

The trilateral meeting comes after a spate of deadly incidents in Jerusalem, including stabbings and car-rammings of pedestrians by Palestinians.

Anger over what is seen as the Israeli government's neglect of predominantly Arab East Jerusalem is another major factor, said Rami Nasrallah, director of the International Peace and Cooperation Institute in Jerusalem.

Tensions were raised on Wednesday after Israel announced a new round of planned housing construction in a Jewish section of east Jerusalem. Palestinians reject Israeli construction in areas they want in a future state, including east Jerusalem, which they envision as their capital.

The U.S. State Department said Wednesday Washington is deeply concerned about Israel's construction plans, which 'fly in the face of the stated goal of achieving a two-state solution.'

Ahead of Kerry's arrival, Abdullah met Abbas in Amman for talks in which he expressed his 'total rejection' of Israel's 'repeated aggressions and provocations in Jerusalem,' a palace statement said.

Jordan borders the West Bank and has a large Palestinian population.

As the custodian of the Muslim holy sites of Jerusalem and with significant influence in the West Bank, Jordan also plays a key moderating and mediating role between Israel and the Palestinians.

Pam Dockins contributed to this story from Amman, Jordan. Some material for this report came from Reuters, AP and AFP.

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