Trump envoy heads to Israel for holy site crisis talks

Published June 30, 2020, 3:40 PM

by James A. Loyola

By Agence France Presse


A top aide to US President Donald Trump was due 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.

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.

On Friday, a Palestinian broke into a home in a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank and stabbed three Israelis to death.

Attack in Jordan

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, though it was not immediately clear if there was any link.

The security guard was said to have shot dead the Jordanian, while a second Jordanian there at the time was also killed.

Separately on Monday, Israeli tank fire struck a Hamas post in the Gaza Strip after what was believed to be a rocket from the enclave landed in an open area in Israel.

 AFP / AHMAD GHARABLI Israeli security forces stand by as Palestinian Muslim worshippers pray outside the Lions Gate, a main entrance to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, on July 23, 2017, in protest at new Israeli security measures

With fears further unrest could follow, Greenblatt “departed for Israel last night to support efforts to reduce tensions in the region,” a US official said on condition of anonymity.

The UN Security Council will also 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.

“Since the start of the events, I have held a series of assessments with security elements including those in the field,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday.

“We are receiving from them an up-to-date picture of the situation, as well as recommendations for action, and we will decide accordingly.”