Jordan has intensified efforts to push Israel to respect the historic status quo of Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque and avoid violent confrontations that could threaten a wider conflict, Jordanian officials and Western diplomats said on Thursday.
According to Reuters, the officials said that Jordan had notified Washington that it was ready to discuss the issue with Israel after the end of the holy month of Ramadan next week. The aim would be to identify steps that the occupation state could take to return conditions at the mosque to those of 22 years ago. Jordan accuses Israel of having changed restrictions on worship at the mosque gradually since 2000.
The new diplomatic effort is "to deal with the roots of the tension and ensure that matters don't explode again," a Jordanian official who requested anonymity said. The official added that Washington had recently been given a paper that "clearly" stated the Hashemite Kingdom's position.
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Clashes over the past two weeks between Palestinians and heavily-armed Israeli police at the mosque compound have stoked Arab and Muslim anger and international concern about a slide back to a wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Shocking images of police brutality against worshippers inside Al-Aqsa Mosque have appeared on social media.
A Western diplomat said that Jordan's proposal did not include convening a joint committee with Israel concerning Muslim and Christian shrines in the occupied Old City of Jerusalem. Several Israeli media outlets said it did, but Jordan is unwilling to concede such a formal role for Israel.
Jordan's ruling royal family has legal custodianship of the Muslim and Christian sites in occupied Jerusalem. The kingdom insists that since 2000 Israel has undermined a centuries-old tradition under which non-Muslims do not worship in the mosque compound. Local sources said that Amman told Washington that Israel should end restrictions on the staffing of Jordan's religious endowment (Waqf) administration and let it manage all visits by non-Muslims and prevent them worshipping in the mosque.
Israel denies accusations by Jordan and Arab states that it has tried to change the status quo of Muslim holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem, which it has occupied since the 1967 Six Day War. It also says it is enforcing a long-standing ban on Jewish prayer at the compound. However, Jordan points out that Israel restricts access for Muslim worshippers and does not restrain far-right Israeli nationalists whose rituals violate the former status quo and, from an Islamic point of view, desecrate the holy site.
Last Friday, Israel banned non-Muslim visits until the end of Ramadan. This was a "good step towards respecting the status quo and easing tensions and restoring calm," Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told Reuters.
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