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Trump aide due in Israel to ease holy site tensions

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  • Greenblatt heads to Israel after week of tensions over new security measures at Haram al-Sharif mosque in Jerusalem.

A top aide to US President Donald Trump arrived in Israel Monday in a bid to ease tensions over new security measures at a highly sensitive Jerusalem holy site after a weekend of deadly violence.

Jason Greenblatt’s visit comes after more than a week of tensions over the Haram al-Sharif mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Greenblatt was holding a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu along with US envoy to Israel David Friedman, an Israeli official said.

Israel installed metal detectors at entrances to the site, which includes Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, following an attack on July 14 that killed two policemen.

Palestinians view the move as Israel asserting further control over the site. They have refused to enter the compound in protest and have prayed in the streets outside.

Israeli authorities say the metal detectors are needed because the July 14 attackers smuggled guns into the site and emerged from it to shoot the officers.

Clashes have broken out during protests over the measures, leaving five Palestinians dead.

Three Israelis were also killed when a Palestinian snuck into a house in a West Bank settlement and stabbed them.

– Jordan seeks to question guard –

An incident on Sunday night in Amman that, according to Israeli officials, saw a Jordanian attack an Israeli security guard with a screwdriver at the Israeli embassy compound raised further concerns. The motives for the alleged attack were unclear.

The security guard shot dead the Jordanian, while a second Jordanian there at the time was also killed — apparently by accident.

A potential diplomatic standoff was brewing over the incident, with Jordan saying it wanted to question the guard but Israel insisting he had diplomatic immunity.

“Jordan has requested to question the Israeli embassy security guard… (and) Israel is still examining the request,” a Jordanian government source said.

Israel’s foreign ministry said in a statement that the guard “has immunity from investigation and imprisonment”.

Netanyahu said he was working to “bring the incident to a close ASAP” and return the security guard to Israel.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on Monday that a senior defence official would travel to Amman to seek to calm the situation.

In the latest incident, police said a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli in the city of Petah Tikva, near the commercial capital Tel Aviv, on Monday morning before being arrested.

The victim’s wounds were not thought to be life threatening.

Israeli tank fire also struck a Hamas post in the Gaza Strip after a rocket from the enclave landed in an open area in Israel.

Besides the US efforts, the UN Security Council will hold closed-door talks Monday about the spiralling violence after Egypt, France and Sweden sought a meeting to “urgently discuss how calls for de-escalation in Jerusalem can be supported”.

Israeli officials have signalled they may be open to changing the measures at the holy site. Cameras have been installed at entrances in a possible indication of an alternative to the metal detectors.

– ‘Playing with fire’ –

Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit on Sunday accused Israel of “playing with fire” with the new security measures, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called them an insult to the Muslim world.

Friday’s main weekly Muslim prayers — which typically draw thousands to Al-Aqsa — brought the situation to a boil.

In anticipation of protests, Israel barred men under 50 from entering the Old City for prayers.

Clashes broke out between Israeli security forces and Palestinians around the Old City, in other parts of annexed east Jerusalem and in the occupied West Bank, leaving three Palestinians dead.

They continued on Saturday, leaving two more Palestinians dead, including one when a petrol bomb exploded prematurely. More scuffles broke out around Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday night.

Friday evening also saw a Palestinian break into a home in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank during a Sabbath dinner and stab four Israelis, killing three.

The Israeli army said the 19-year-old Palestinian had spoken in a Facebook post of the holy site and of dying as a martyr.

The holy site in Jerusalem has served as a rallying cry for Palestinians.

In 2000, then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon’s visit to the compound helped ignite the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, which lasted more than four years.

It is in east Jerusalem, seized by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.

Considered the third holiest site in Islam, it is the most sacred for Jews.

@Middle East online


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