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Nov 13, 2014 9:17 AM

Jordan, Israel to meet over tensions in Jerusalem

The Associated Press

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) Facing rising tensions over a revered holy site, Jordan's king and Israel's prime minister were to meet Thursday over how to inject calm into troubled Jerusalem before burgeoning violence grows out of control.

The evening discussion in the Jordanian capital meeting also will seek to soothe diplomatic relations between the two allied Mideast nations that have grown frosty in recent weeks over what Amman has described as heavy-handed tactics by Israeli authorities against Muslims seeking to pray at the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. The mosque is located on the same hilltop compound that is the third-holiest site in Islam and the most sacred place in Judaism.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who spent much of the last year unsuccessfully trying to broker a peace agreement between Israel and Palestinians, will also attend the evening discussion with Jordan's King Abdullah II and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The meeting will "focus on ways to restore calm and de-escalate tensions in Jerusalem," State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement Thursday from Amman.

Jordan is one of just two Arab countries at peace with Israel. As the custodian of the Muslim holy sites of Jerusalem and with significant influence in the West Bank, Jordan plays a key moderating and mediating role between Israel and the Palestinians. Jordan borders the West Bank and has a large Palestinian population.

But Amman last week pulled its ambassador from Tel Aviv to protest what the kingdom called an unacceptable crackdown by Israeli police against Palestinian demonstrations at al-Aqsa.

Long-simmering tensions have boiled over into violent demonstrations and deadly Palestinian attacks that have killed six people in recent weeks. The fatal shooting by police last weekend of an Israeli Arab protester in northern Israel as he appeared to be walking away from the officer has worsened the atmosphere.

Netanyahu has insisted that Israel has no plans to change the arrangements at the holy site, but his pledges have done little to bring calm.

A day earlier, on Wednesday, Israeli authorities gave preliminary approval to build 200 homes in a Jewish area of east Jerusalem, a move that threatened to push Israelis and Palestinians deeper into conflict after weeks of unrest. The U.S. says it is concerned by the new settlements, which all but certainly will scuttle prospects of re-opening peace talks any time soon.

The collapse last April of a U.S.-brokered peace settlement, Israel's war last summer in the Gaza Strip against the Islamic militant group Hamas, and the continued Israeli settlement construction in east Jerusalem have added to the distrust.

Kerry met earlier Thursday with King Abdullah and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, as well as with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas was not expected to join the trilateral discussion on Thursday evening.


Associated Press Writers Josef Federman and Peter Enav in Jerusalem contributed to this report.


Follow Lara Jakes on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/larajakesAP


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