Prayers Pass Peacefully at Jerusalem Site as Israel-Jordan Talks Continue

Muslim leaders had called on worshipers to protest at Bab al-Rahma ■ Jerusalem and Amman are negotiating to ease tensions over site's closure

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Palestinian Muslim worshipers pray during Friday noon prayers near the Golden Gate in Jerusalem, on March 8, 2019.
Palestinian Muslim worshipers pray during Friday noon prayers near the Golden Gate in Jerusalem, on March 8, 2019. Credit: AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP

Prayers passed peacefully at Jerusalem's most sensitive holy site on Friday, as Jordan confirmed it was negotiating with Israel to ease tensions.

Hostilities have simmered over Israel's court-ordered closure of a building known as the Bab al-Rahma, or the "Gate of Mercy," at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Waqf, which oversees Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, has staged prayer protests over the past month to call for the building's reopening.

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Palestinian leaders had called for mass demonstrations at Friday prayers at the mosque, while Israel deployed a heavy police presence. Thousands of worshippers attended and dispersed without incident.

A Jordanian official confirmed that Jordan, custodian of the compound, held talks with Israeli diplomats to prevent an escalation. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

The building had been shut for 16 years by the Israel Police, but the closure order expired in August. Since the building's reopening by Muslim worshippers, the police have sought to have the structure closed once again to keep out protesters.

In a proposal to Israel on Wednesday, the Jordanians suggested that the building be closed for extensive renovations, which would lower tensions at the site for the length of the work.

Israel reportedly agreed to the plan but demanded that the structure be briefly closed before reconstruction so that Israel could assert its sovereignty on the Mount.

A delegation of senior Israeli officials paid a visit to Jordan Thursday in an attempt to reach a solution over the crisis. Jerusalem and Amman have so far failed to reach an agreement regarding the future of the Bab al-Rahma building, but discussions are still underway between representatives of the two countries.