US State Department unclear on Israeli intentions for Temple Mount

Kerry tells PM to hold status quo 'in word and in deed.'

October 14, 2015 00:11
2 minute read.
temple mount jerusalem

Jerusalem's Old City and the Temple Mount. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

WASHINGTON -- US officials on Tuesday declined to take sides in a debate over Israel's true policy and intentions regarding the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif), a point of tension exacerbating conflict on the ground between Israelis and Palestinians.

Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has repeatedly blamed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for inciting Palestinians to violence, while Abbas claims that Netanyahu seeks to change status quo arrangements on the holy site, where non-Muslims are not allowed to formally pray.

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Netanyahu has repeatedly called that accusation a "gross" and "dangerous lie." But pressed on the matter, State Department officials echoed Abbas' concerns, suggesting they believe Israel's policy leaves open the possibility of change at the site.

Detailing a Saturday call by US Secretary of State John Kerry, deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the secretary told Netanyahu to uphold the site's historic status quo "in word and in deed." And asked what Israel should be doing to reduce tensions, Toner replied: "For one thing, upholding the status quo on Haram al-Sharif–Temple Mount."

He declined to attribute blame for the crisis to one side or another, and said that Kerry's call against incitement was intended for both leaders.

"Both sides need to decrease tensions," Toner said.

The violence has taken various forms. Palestinian perpetrators have conducted stabbings, shootings and vehicular attacks against Israeli children, adult civilians and police forces, while Palestinian deaths have reportedly been at the hands of the IDF, with one incident last week characterized as a reprisal attack by an Israeli Jew against Israeli Arabs.

Israel's security cabinet met on Tuesday afternoon to consider a host of preemptive and punitive actions, hoping to implement effective security measures without making matters worse. Netanyahu has proposed restricting Palestinian access to specific neighborhoods that have, in the last two weeks, been at particularly high risk of attack.

Questioned on the proposal, Toner said: "We'd hope that any such measures would be temporary."

Meanwhile, Britain's minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, issued a statement saying that Britain remained "extremely concerned by the violence that we have seen across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories so far this month."

Twin attacks in Jerusalem on Tuesday morning took the lives of three Israelis, and wounded over 20 others.

The statement condemned Tuesday's attacks that led to the death of three Israelis, as well as other attacks that "have left multiple innocent civilians wounded."

Since October 1, seven Israelis have been killed and dozens more have been injured in 26 separate attacks across Israel and the Palestinian territories. According to Palestinian reports, 27 Palestinians– including nine alleged attackers– have also died.

Herb Keinon contributed to this report.

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