U.S. Officials Meet Lapid in Snap Mideast Visit Aimed at Calming Jerusalem Tensions

Foreign Minister Lapid tells senior envoys Israel 'stopped Jewish extremists' from fanning the flames in Jerusalem's Old City

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Palestinians shout slogans at the Temple Mount, Jerusalem, last week.
Palestinians shout slogans at the Temple Mount, Jerusalem, last week.Credit: AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday met with senior U.S. officials visiting the Middle East in hopes of de-escalating tensions between Israel, the Palestinians and Jordan over Israel's policies concerning the holy sites in Jerusalem.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken dispatched Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Yael Lempert and Deputy Assistant Secretary Hady Amr to the region earlier this week, as rising tensions risk a potential repeat of last May's violence in Israel and the West Bank and war in the Gaza Strip.

In an English-language tweet, Lapid noted that he "discussed Israel’s efforts in this very challenging period to preserve the status quo on the Temple Mount, and I expressed my appreciation to the U.S. for its efforts to calm tensions in the region" during his meeting with Lempert and Amr.

Lapid also stressed that "extremists and Hamas supporters" are the ones fanning the flames.

Referring to Israel's efforts at preventing Wednesday's flag march from sparking further conflict, Lapid added "Israel stopped Jewish extremists who tried to inflame tensions in Jerusalem. Muslim moderates need to do the same thing when it comes to Islamic extremists."

Lempert and Amr also met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and senior Palestinian officials "to discuss the need for all parties to call and work for calm, especially in Jerusalem, and our mutual commitment to a two-state solution," according to a tweet by the U.S. Embassy's Palestinian Affairs Unit.

Earlier in the day, dozens of Palestinians clashed with Israeli police forces at Jerusalem's Temple Mount on Thursday morning after hundreds of Jews attempted to reach the site with police protection. Thursday marks the last day that Jewish visitors will be allowed to ascend to the Temple Mount until the end of the month of Ramadan, in ten days.

Meanwhile, Israel has imposed a curfew on Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in effect until Saturday evening, for the end of Passover. Worshippers from the West Bank will still be able to arrive at Al-Aqsa for Ramadan prayers.

Lempert and Amr's arrival in Israel follows their first stop in Amman, where they met with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi to "discuss the importance of reducing tensions in Jerusalem and of all exercising restraint, avoiding provocative actions and rhetoric, and upholding the historic status quo at Jerusalem’s holy places," according to the U.S. Embassy in Jordan.

Senior Palestinian official Hussein al-Sheikh noted they will arrive in the Palestinian territories later Thursday to meet with Palestinian leadership to discuss the latest developments. The U.S. officials are also slated to visit Egypt before returning to Washington.

The trip comes days after Blinken called Safadi, Lapid and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a concerted effort at deescalation. Blinken and the leaders discussed the importance of upholding the status quo at Jerusalem's holy sites, the need to ensure freedom of worship for all, and the importance of refraining from rhetoric and actions that further escalate tensions.

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