US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) meets with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Amman, on November 13, 2014, to discuss the upsurge in violence in east Jerusalem and the West Bank
US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) meets with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Amman, on November 13, 2014, to discuss the upsurge in violence in east Jerusalem and the West Bank © Nicholas Kamm - Pool/AFP
US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) meets with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Amman, on November 13, 2014, to discuss the upsurge in violence in east Jerusalem and the West Bank
Hazel Ward, AFP
Last updated: November 13, 2014

Clashes in Jerusalem ahead of Kerry talks with Abbas

Banner Icon US Secretary of State John Kerry met Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Jordan on Thursday for talks aimed at calming a wave of violence gripping Israel and the occupied territories.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said steps were agreed Thursday at talks in Amman to lower tensions between Israel and the Palestinians over the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem.

Months-long unrest in annexed east Jerusalem has spread to the occupied West Bank and Arab communities across Israel in recent days, raising fears of a new Palestinian uprising.

Kerry said the confidence-building steps, which will not be publicly spelled out, were agreed at a meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"Firm commitments" were made to maintain the status quo at the compound in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem which is holy to both Jews and Muslims, he said at a press conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

Israel and Jordan, which has custodial rights at the compound, also agreed to take steps to "de-escalate the situation" in Jerusalem and to "restore confidence".

"We are not going to lay out each practical step; it is more important they be done in a quiet and effective way," Kerry said.

"It is clear to me that they are serious about working on the effort to create de-escalation and to take steps to instill confidence that the status quo will be upheld."

The Palestinians have been infuriated by a far-right Jewish campaign for prayer rights at Al-Aqsa. However, Israel had insisted before Thursday's meeting that it had no plans to change the decades-old status quo, which limits access for prayer to Muslims.

- 'Real steps, not rhetoric' -

The flurry of diplomatic activity, which also saw Kerry meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in the morning, followed new clashes in east Jerusalem, where Israeli police fired tear gas, sound bombs and rubber bullets to disperse Palestinian demonstrators.

Kerry and a sombre-looking Abbas embraced and had a brief, whispered exchange as they met at the Palestinian leader's villa in Amman, where the US and Palestinian flags hung in front of a large night-time photo of the Al-Aqsa mosque.

Kerry told journalists he had pressed Abbas to also take concrete measures.

"President Abbas and I this morning discussed constructive steps, real steps, not rhetoric, that people can take in order to de-escalate the situation.

"He made it clear that he will do everything possible to restore calm and to the prevent the incitement of violence."

Abbas's spokesman said ahead of the meeting that the Palestinian leader was expected to express his growing concerns over Israel's actions, particularly in Jerusalem.

"The Palestinian position will be made crystal clear: the Israeli violations are a red line and cannot be tolerated -- especially with the tension and Israeli escalation in Al-Aqsa and Jerusalem," Nabil Abu Rudeina said.

Kerry also met King Abdullah, who called for Israel "to put an end to its unilateral action and repeated attacks against holy sites in Jerusalem, especially those targeting the Al-Aqsa mosque compound."

Jordan last week recalled its ambassador to Israel after police clashed with Palestinians inside the mosque compound.

In a letter to the UN Security Council Wednesday, Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour demanded international intervention over Al-Aqsa, warning tensions could "spiral out of control".

- Warning of new attacks -

The unrest in Jerusalem has also been fuelled by Israeli moves to step up settlement activity in the city's eastern sector and by religious tensions at the compound.

Israel approved plans Wednesday for another 200 settler homes in east Jerusalem -- a move sharply criticised by Washington and a red flag to the Palestinians.

A tense confrontation erupted in the Issawiya neighbourhood there Thursday morning as about 100 residents, including schoolchildren, tried to block a main road after police closed off several neighbourhood entrances with concrete blocks.

An 11-year-old Palestinian boy was wounded when a so-called sponge round fired by Israeli police hit him between the eyes during the clashes, medics said.

Israeli Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said the authorities were on alert for more unrest, after several attacks in recent weeks by Palestinians wielding knives or ploughing cars into pedestrians.

"I believe there will still be terror attacks and other incidents in the near future," he said.

In a move likely to further heighten tensions, Aharonovitch said late Wednesday he would reinstall metal detectors at the entrances to the compound along with facial-recognition technology.

"We'll increase the supervision of people entering the compound, both Jews and Muslims," he said.

Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib, head of the Islamic Waqf which runs the compound, rejected the idea.

"This is unacceptable to all Muslims. It cannot be installed," he told AFP.

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