Senior Israeli Delegation Visits Jordan, but No Solution Yet for Temple Mount Crisis

Jerusalem and Amman still discussing potential agreement over prayer site ahead of mass Friday protest prayers

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Palestinian Muslim worshipers pray inside Bab Al-Rahma Jerusalem on March 7, 2019.
Palestinian Muslim worshipers pray inside Bab Al-Rahma Jerusalem on March 7, 2019. Credit: AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP

A delegation of senior Israeli officials paid a visit to Jordan Thursday in an attempt to reach a solution over the crisis sparked surrounding a disputed prayer site in Jerusalem's Temple Mount.

Jerusalem and Amman have so far failed to reach an agreement regarding the future of the Bab al-Rahma building in the compound, but discussions are still underway between representatives of the two countries.

Meanwhile, the Waqf (Islamic custodian of the Temple Mount) has called on Muslim worshipers to hold protest prayers at the gates of the compound on Friday.

>> Read more: Recent clashes have Israel, Palestinians on brink of broad escalation | Analysis ■ Why Israel and Jordan are clashing over the Temple Mount | Explained

Jerusalem police told Haaretz that they had not gone on high alert ahead of Friday's prayers. "There are no restrictions on entry and the level of forces will be similar in size to every Friday in the Temple Mount area," police said.

File photo: Israeli police confronts Palestinians at al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, February 18, 2019.Credit: Mahmoud Illean/AP

Israel closed the site to worshipers 16 years ago, based on the claim that it served a group associated with Hamas. But last month, officials from the Waqf reopened the building.

The police have since attempted to close it again, but Muslim protesters have reopened it and have used it as a mosque.

On Monday, police arrested the Waqf guards who opened the site, as the guards have done every morning since protesters reopened the building. The police also issued restraining orders against Waqf guards and Palestinian activists, including the Waqf's head, Sheikh Abdel-Azeem Salhab, to prevent them from reaching the site.

In the meantime, tensions in the area have been mounting. The police removed a group of Jewish visitors from the compound on Thursday after they clashed with Muslim worshipers. With the approach of Friday prayers, the Waqf has called for the holding of protest prayers at the site, located near the Golden Gate.

In talks between Israel and Jordan, the two sides have been discussing a potential agreement on the site's future. The proposal is that the structure be closed for renovations for a lengthy period. The dispute revolves around Israel wanting the building closed for a short period, in order to demonstrate its sovereignty over the compound. The Waqf and Jordan have rejected this demand. Another Israeli demand that is being rejected is that archaeologists from Israel’s Antiquities Authority be present for the renovations.

As the disagreement continues, the Waqf has found itself in a predicament. Its guardians have detained and forcibly removed from the complex by the police, while any attempt at dialogue or a short closure is met by extreme elements accusing the Waqf of collaboration and surrender. This week, a meeting between the head of the Waqf and the commander of Jerusalem’s police force was canceled due to threats and pressure by extreme Islamists.

In contrast to previous crises around Temple Mount, Washington is not playing a role in discussions between Jordan and Israel, a source said.

Meanwhile, calls have been heard in East Jerusalem to hold mass protest prayers on Friday. One focus will be Bab al-Rahma, and another will be Tribes’ Gate, another entry point to the Temple Mount compound. Dozens of Waqf guardians and Palestinian activists who were removed from the area by police plan to pray at these locations. Tribes’ Gate was a focus of protest when Israel set up magnetic detection devices after a deadly attack on the Temple Mount 2017.

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