Jordan’s King Abdullah has condemned “provocative” Israeli actions against Muslims in Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque, as mounting violence in Palestine threatened to escalate into another war.
An 11-day conflict between the Iranian-backed militant group Hamas and Israel last year was partly ignited by conflict over Al Aqsa, souring relations between Israel and Jordan. Authorities allowed anti-Israeli demonstrations in the kingdom as the war raged through May 2021.
On Sunday, he said Israel must respect the “historic and legal status” of Al Aqsa and “stop all illegitimate and provocative measures that violate this status”, Jordanian television reported.
They were King Abdullah’s first public remarks since travelling to Germany for back surgery last week.
The king was referring to what Jordan regards as its custodianship of Al Aqsa and other holy sites in occupied East Jerusalem, as well to Israel’s obligation not to admit Jewish worshippers – whom Jordan blames for the latest violence – to the site.
The mosque is one of Islam’s three holiest sites. It was built by Umayyad ruler Abd AlMalik Ibn Marwan in the late seventh century.
The Palestine-Israel conflict has historically allowed Jordan to exercise an outsized regional influence, something Amman is seeking to regain since the presidency of Donald Trump, whose tenure focused on promoting normalisation between Arab states and Israel.
A large proportion of Jordan’s 10 million population are of Palestinian origin, while tribes who inhabited the kingdom before Israel’s foundation in 1948 underpin Jordan’s security forces and the bureaucracy.
Scores of Palestinians were injured on Friday in clashes with Israeli security forces at Al Aqsa Mosque compound. In the past few weeks, Palestinian extremists have killed 14 people in Israel and Israeli raids in the occupied West Bank killed about 20 Palestinians.
Before leaving for Germany, the king invited several Israeli officials in Amman to try to head off the violence. The royal palace said his back surgery in Frankfurt last week was successful.
He also made a rare visit to Ramallah, in a show of solidarity with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The war last year undermined Mr Abbas and the Palestinian Authority by showing how little influence he had over events compared with that of Hamas and other militant groups supported by Iran.
The kingdom declined an invitation to take part in a regional meeting held in Israel at the end of last month to strengthen Arab-Israeli co-operation against Iran.
Jordanian officials indicated that the meeting was a distraction from the Palestinian issue.
Official television said on Sunday that King Abdullah had instructed officials from Frankfurt to continue diplomatic efforts “to halt escalatory Israeli steps and build up an international position to achieve that”.
The king said Israel must seek “a real political horizon that guarantees all legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, based on the two-state solution”.
He described protection of Jerusalem and its holy sites as “a Jordanian priority”, and said the city’s “Arab, Islamic and Christian identity” must be preserved.
Jordan signed a formal peace treaty with Israel in 1994.
The treaty does not refer specifically to Jordanian custodianship in Jerusalem but says that Israel respects the “special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem”.
It also commits each side to “provide freedom of access to places of religious and historical significance”.