US State Department officials in Jordan as nerves fray over Palestinian-Israeli violence

Two officials start regional tour in Amman, where criticism of Israel has sharpened

Israeli police in East Jerusalem on April 17.  AP

Two US State Department officials arrived in Amman on Wednesday on the start of a regional tour to contain violence in East Jerusalem that prompted harsh criticism of Israel from Jordan.

In a move that could help to reduce tension, police stopped far-right Israeli protesters marching in East Jerusalem on Wednesday, after violence in the city's Al Aqsa Mosque, one of the three of the holiest sites in Islam.

Clashes at the mosque partly led to an 11-day war in May 2021 between Israel and the militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza.

Scores of Palestinians were wounded at the mosque compound, Haram Al Sharif, last week by Israeli rubber bullets and stun grenades.

A official Jordanian statement said the two US officials — Yael Lempert, acting assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, and his deputy, Hady Amr, deputy assistant secretary for Israeli and Palestinian affairs — met Foreign Minister Ayman Al Safadi on their arrival in Amman.

"Mr Al Safadi affirmed the need for Israel to preserve the historic and legal situation in the blessed Al Aqsa Mosque and guarantee freedom for worshippers as a way to restore calm," the statement said.

The violence followed Palestinian attacks that killed 14 people in Israel in the past two months, and Israeli raids in the occupied West Bank in which about 20 Palestinians died.

The mosque is on a site holy to Jews and Muslims, which was occupied by Israel in the 1967 war. This year the Jewish Passover and the Muslim Ramadan overlapped.

Jordan claims custodianship of Al Aqsa and says Israel must obtain permission from Jordanian authorities for Jews to enter it.

The 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel says Israel respects a "special role" for Jordan in Jerusalem's Muslim shrines.

Jordanian officials have admonished Israel for allowing Jewish worshippers into the compound, saying that their presence provoked the violence.

Jordanian Prime Minister Bisher Al Khasawneh on Monday praised "those throwing their stones at all of those Zionists who desecrate Al Aqsa Mosque" that day.

Israel described his remarks as grave and encouraging extremists, as militants in Gaza fired a rocket on Israel, to which it responded with air strikes, and passengers on an Israeli bus in Jerusalem were wounded by stones.

The prime minister usually plays no role in Jordanian foreign policy, which is determined by King Abdullah.

The Jordanian statement on Wednesday said Amman and Washington would continue "joint work to prevent the cycle of violence from intensifying".

Mr Lempert and Mr Amr will travel next to Israel, Ramallah, which is seat of the Palestinian Authority, and Cairo.

The State Department said their mission is to "engage with senior officials in the region to discuss reducing tensions and ending the cycle of violence".

Updated: April 20, 2022, 10:15 PM