Israeli and Jordanian officials were reportedly in talks Wednesday in an attempt to reach a compromise ahead of expected clashes at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Temple Mount compound, where Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa mosque have deteriorated into violent altercations between Muslim worshipers and Israeli police in recent weeks.
A cancelled meeting between Israeli and Palestinian authorities overseeing the disputed area prompted negotiations between Israeli and Jordanian officials, Israel newspaper Haaretz reported.
The Bab al-Rahma structure has been the site of clashes between the Waqf and Israeli authorities in recent weeks, after thousands of Palestinian worshipers forced their way into the area that had been closed off by Israeli forces in 2003 over alleged ties between the Islamic society operating there was associated with Hamas.
A meeting between the Waqf, the religious authority that oversees Muslim holy sites in the city, and Jerusalem’s police chief was planned for Wednesday morning, but it was cancelled after some Palestinian factions accused the Waqf of yielding to Israel.
Jordanian officials reportedly suggested closing the Bab al-Rahma building for an indefinite period while it undergoes renovations. Both the Waqf and Jordanian authorities would like to see the ancient, area of Islam’s third holiest site repaired, but Israel does not want to risk relinquishing control over spot, which is prone to heightened security threats due to its significance in both Islam and Judaism.
An Israeli court warned Monday that it would order closed a contested area on the Temple Mount compound unless the Waqf responds to a state request to close the previously-sealed off flashpoint.
The Waqf declined to appear in court in order to avoid appearing
The 16-year Israeli closure order expired in August and the Waqf, the Islamic endowment body tasked with managing the Temple Mount compound, has argued in favor of reopening the building claiming the Islamic heritage association that had been operating there had long been disbanded and its members arrested.
According to a previous report by Haaretz, Israeli State Prosecutors asked for the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court to rule on the Bab al-Rahma dispute after it became clear during arrest proceedings against Palestinians suspected of visiting the prohibited site that no order had actually been issued for its closure in the wake of its re-opening last month.
Sheikh Abdel Azim Salhab, head of the Waqf religious authority that runs the holy Muslim sites in the Old City including the Temple Mount where Al-Aqsa sits, has been barred from it from the mosque’s compound for 40 days and his deputy Najih Bakira for four months.
Jordan, the official custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City, has accused Israel of a “new escalation” after it issued a temporary injunction barring top Waqf officials from visiting the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in response to clashes that erupted as worshipers forced their way into Bab al-Rahma.
Jordan’s minister for religious affairs, Abdel Nasser Abu-Bassal, quoted by state news agency Petra, said on Sunday that the Israeli measures constitute “a new escalation aimed at impeding Waqf’s work in Jerusalem and intimidating its members.
Jordanian authorities said Israel was “playing with fire”, referring to the arrests and summons of Waqf officials as a “serious escalation that is totally unacceptable and affects the role of Jordan in the care of holy sites in Jerusalem.”
The hilltop compound, known as the Temple Mount to Jews and as Haram al-Sharif to Muslims, is central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, and is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam.
The site has become the site of violent clashes in the past. Palestinians believe that Israel intends to change the status-quo at the site while many Israelis voice frustration over what they see as restrictions on Jewish prayer at the complex.