Israel-Jordan Embassy Crisis Ends: Diplomats Evacuated, Cross Border Into Israel

Contingent includes guard wounded in Sunday night's attack ■ Evacuation made possible after call between Netanyahu, Jordan's king ■ All diplomats 'in good health'

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Policemen are seen near the Israeli embassy in Amman, Jordan, July 23, 2017.
Policemen are seen near the Israeli embassy in Amman, Jordan, July 23, 2017.Credit: STRINGER/REUTERS
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

After more than 24 hours, the crisis between Israel and Jordan surrounding the embassy in Amman concluded. According to the Prime Minister's Office, shortly before 11:00 P.M., all Israeli diplomats from the embassy, headed by Ambassador Einat Schlain, arrived in Israel via the Allenby Crossing. Among the contingent includes the security guard wounded in Sunday night's stabbing attack.

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"All are in good health," the Prime Minister's Office said, adding their return "was made possible by the close cooperation that took place in the last 24 hours between Israel and Jordan." The Prime Minister's Office added that Netanyahu spoke with the ambassador and the security guard a short while ago.

A senior Israeli official noted that a solution was found during Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman's visit to Amman that enabled the release of the security guard and the evacuation of the embassy's Israeli staff.

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According to the official, Israel refused to allow the guard to be interrogated, but agreed to allow Jordanian police to arrive at the embassy compound to hear the guard's description of the incident in the presence of Israeli diplomats. Jordanian police arrived at the embassy to hear the guard's statement Monday evening. Nearly an hour later, the entire embassy staff boarded a convoy and headed back to Israel.

The security guard's release and the embassy staff's evacuation was made possible after a phone call between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan's King Abdullah. During their conversation, the king urged Netanyahu to solve the crisis surrounding the Temple Mount as quickly as possible, specifically calling on Netanyahu to remove the metal detectors as soon as possible.

For more than 24 hours, some 20 diplomats and security guards were locked in the Israeli Embassy in Amman after a highly unusual security incident in which an Israeli security guard shot and killed a Jordanian civilian who attacked him while installing furniture at his apartment.

The incident, which took place amid the backdrop of already-high tensions between Israel and Jordan over the ongoing Temple Mount crisis, has become one of the most serious crises between the two countries in recent years.

On Sunday afternoon, Mohammed al-Juwaida, a 17-year-old Palestinian from Amman, arrived at the guard's apartment to install furniture. A senior Foreign Ministry official said that at one point the assailant stabbed the guard in the back with a screwdriver. The guard attempted to dodge the assailant, pulling out his weapon and shooting him to death. The apartment's owner, Dr. Bashar al-Hamarna, was wounded during the incident and later succumbed to his wounds, an Israeli security official said Sunday.

The guard, who was lightly wounded, immediately arrived at the embassy, reported the incident and received initial medical treatment. A large contingent of Jordanian forces, meanwhile, arrived at the site, blocking all access roads and opening an initial investigation into the incident. After the embassy reported the unusual incident to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, a state of emergency was declared and all Israeli diplomats were instructed to arrive at the embassy compound to prepare for an urgent evacuation back to Israel.

A senior Foreign Ministry official noted that the main concern was that mass demonstrations in the area would turn into an attack similar to the incident at the Israeli Embassy in Cairo several years ago. As a precautionary measure, the Foreign Ministry asked the military censor to impose a total blackout on details of the incident, fearing the safety of diplomats and security guards. By this time, Jordanian and international media already began reporting on the unusual incident.

On Sunday evening, all the embassy staff were in vehicles headed for Israel, but the Jordanian security forces made clear that they demanded to interrogate the Israeli guard involved in the incident. Israel refused, citing the guard's diplomatic immunity. A senior Foreign Ministry official noted that the guard is an accredited diplomat, immune from interrogation and detention under the Vienna Convention.

Jordan's demand came amid the backdrop of Jordanian reports claiming that the Jordanian citizen did not attack the guard, but was shot during an argument between the two.

"He shot my son in the chest with two bullets, he killed him in cold blood," Zakaria al-Juwaida, the Jordanian's father, told local media. "We want to know and understand what happened, otherwise we will not agree to accept his body."

He added that he expects the Israeli guard to stand trial. "Today it is my son. Tomorrow it could be the king's son, or the son of a tribal leader," said Mohammed al-Juwada's father Zakaria to the Arab and Jordanian media. "That is why I expect all the relevant bodies to take matters into their own hands. We are not a banana republic."

He said that his son entered the guard's apartment building unarmed, stressing that his son did not belong to any organization and did not advocate for any specific ideology. One of al-Juwaida's relatives said he did not know the Israelis in the building were Jews. "If he knew they were Israelis, he would not have gone there."

He added that "the two started to have an argument, then the Israeli pulled out a gun and shot him." He said his relative was a student who worked during his summer vacation who came to the guard's apartment to receive payment for the furniture.

Senior Israeli intelligence and defense officials made urgent phone calls to their Jordanian counterparts Sunday evening in an attempt to resolve the crisis. At the same time, Israel's security cabinet - meeting on the Temple Mount crisis - quickly began to shift gears to the developing crisis in Jordan. Netanyahu attempted to call Abdullah several times during the cabinet meeting in an attempt to quickly solve the crisis, but he could not be reached on his flight from Hawaii to Los Angeles.

It became clear as time passed that the Jordanians refused to give up their demand to interrogate the guard and were unwilling to allow him to leave the country. Netanyahu left the cabinet meeting, speaking twice with both Schlain and the guard.

After his calls, it was decided to suspend the embassy's evacuation and that all diplomats would remain in the embassy until a solution to the crisis was found. "I was impressed with the way she was running things there," Netanyahu said Monday. "I promised the guard that we would make sure we bring him back to Israel - we're already experienced in this."

Netanyahu opted to send Argaman to Jordan during the cabinet meeting. He arrived Monday morning and met with the Jordanian intelligence chief, beginning negotiations on a solution to the crisis.

At the same time, Jordanian Ambassador to Israel Walid Obeidat was invited to meet with Foreign Ministry Director-General Yuval Rotem and asked for help in resolving the crisis. Argaman returned to Jerusalem later in the afternoon, when he briefed Netanyahu and senior Foreign Ministry officials.

A senior Israeli official noted that the Jordanians who met with Argaman did not doubt that the guard was attacked nor that the shooting was justified, but made clear that Jordan must find a solution where it could save face due to public pressure.

Gili Cohen and Jack Khoury contributed to this report.

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