Middle East

UN Mideast envoy calls for de-escalation of Temple Mount tensions

Nikolay Mladenov

Special Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov says ‘moderate voices’ should speak up against those trying to fuel unrest.

UN Special Coordinator Nikolay Mladenov, February 9, 2015 (CC BY-SA Ottokars, Wikipedia)

The United Nations’ special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Nickolay Mladenov expressed concern on Thursday regarding the “recent surge in tensions and violence” at the Temple Mount.

The statement comes nearly a week after a deadly terror attack at the holy site by three Arab Israelis who killed two Israeli policeman, setting off days of unrest in the Israeli capital.

“I am deeply concerned by the recent surge in tensions and violence around the holy esplanade in the Old City of Jerusalem,” Mladenov said in a statement, calling on “all concerned parties to de-escalate the situation.”

The UN envoy said he welcomed repeated Israeli assurances that the status quo at the Temple Mount would be upheld — amid Palestinian accusations that the Israeli government was trying to change the delicate balance at the site where Israel controls access and the Waqf Islamic trust set up by Jordan administers activities inside the compound. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit but are prohibited from prayer.

“I welcome the commitment of Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu to uphold and respect the status quo at the holy sites, and Palestinian [Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas’ firm condemnation of violence, specifically the deadly attack on two Israeli policemen on 14 July,” he said.

Abbas denounced the attack but also slammed the Israeli government for its two-day closure of the site — known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif compound, which includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock sanctuary — following the attack and Israel’s subsequent security installations including metal detectors and cameras when it reopened Sunday. The Temple Mount is the holiest place for Jews, as the site of the biblical temples, and the third holiest for Muslims, as the site of Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The increased security measures were taken after police said the three Arab Israeli attackers who emerged armed from the compound and shot dead two police officers just outside on Friday had stashed their weapons on the holy site.

Border police officers guard near metal detectors placed outside the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, July 16, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Border police officers guard near metal detectors placed outside the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem’s Old City, July 16, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Thursday, police released video footage showing how the killers and an accomplice got the guns into the Temple Mount compound.

Muslim worshipers have been protesting the new security measures, saying the move breaks the status quo agreement between Jerusalem and Amman, a charge Israel has rejected.

Abbas’s Fatah party also organized a “Day of Rage” on Wednesday against the move, with rioters clashing with Israeli police at sites around Jerusalem.

Waqf officials have boycotted the site in protest and have called on other Muslims to do the same. Several clashes have broken out following protest prayers next to the metal detectors.

Officials are worried that tensions may come to a head on Friday — the Muslim holy day — should the metal detectors remain in place.

Muslim worshipers shout slogans at the Lions' Gate, outside the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, on July 19, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Muslim worshipers shout slogans at the Lions’ Gate, outside the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem’s Old City, on July 19, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Mladenov, however, said Thursday he hoped Netanyahu’s and Abbas’s “affirmations will contribute to resolving the concerns of all parties and put an end to the provocative rhetoric that has added to the escalation over the past week.”

He also made special note of the role of Jordan “and the historical role of King Abdullah II, as custodian of the Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem” in helping to de-escalate tensions.

Tensions between Israel and Jordan, who signed a peace treaty in 1994, have been high since the attack amid an Israeli investigation into suspicions the three terrorists who carried out the attack last week received help from Waqf officials. Israel has also strongly rejected a statement by the Jordanian parliament speaker who praised the terrorists — all from the northern Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm — saying they had “sowed and watered the pure land” and hailing “the sacrifice of the young Palestinians who are still fighting in the name of the nation.”

Master Sgt. Kamil Shnaan, left, and Master Sgt. Haiel Sitawe, right, the police officers killed in the terror attack next to the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem on July 14, 2017. (Israel Police)

Master Sgt. Kamil Shnaan, left, and Master Sgt. Haiel Sitawe, right, the police officers killed in the terror attack next to the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem on July 14, 2017. (Israel Police)

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein lashed out at the Jordanian official in a video message this week, saying: “It’s inconceivable that such a senior figure from a country we have peace with would dare encourage the murder of Israeli citizens. If you’re unable to condemn terror attacks, just keep quiet.”

The Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, meanwhile, said the key to restoring calm is to have Israel respect the “historic and legal status” at the shrine. Safadi told ambassadors from Europe and Asia that ending tensions is in the hands of Israel which he said should immediately reopen the shrine without any hindrances, according to a report in the Jordanian news agency Petra.

Mladenov said he called “on all concerned parties to de-escalate the situation and on moderate voices to speak up against those who try to fuel tensions.”

Source : The Times of Israel

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