Jordan, Egypt summon Israeli envoys

Egyptians ask for apology for removal of citizens by Israeli police from Church of the Holy Sepulcher, while Jordan angered over mufti arrest.

Israeli police in front of Al Aqsa mosque 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
Israeli police in front of Al Aqsa mosque 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
Jordan and Egypt this week summoned the Israeli ambassadors in their capitals in response to two separate incidents which occurred in Jerusalem.
The Foreign Ministry in Cairo on Wednesday called in Ambassador Yaakov Amitai to protest the actions of Israeli police who had roughly removed three Egyptian diplomats and a Coptic priest from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Saturday night.
They had gone to pray and witness the Holy Fire ceremony. According to Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor the church was too crowded and police, who were trying to clear the area and were unaware of the Egyptians’ identity and had “acted to vigorously in enforcing the law.”
When Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin met with the Charge d’Affairs at the Egyptian embassy two days ago, he apologized.
Egypt has since asked for the apology in writing.
On Wednesday, Jordan summoned Ambassador Daniel Nevo to protest Israel’s decision to limit the entrance of Muslim worshipers to the Temple Mount on Tuesday and to allow Jews to visit the compound on Jerusalem Day, which continued into Wednesday. It was also angered by the arrest of Jerusalem Mufti Muhammad Ahmad Hussein for allegedly inciting violence against Jews on the Temple Mount.
Since the Jordanian foreign minister was out of the country, Nevo spoke with the interior minister instead.
The meeting came on the same day as Jordan’s Lower Parliament had asked to recall its ambassador from Israel and demanded that Nevo be expelled.
Hussein was arrested Wednesday morning after roughly 15 Muslim worshipers threw chairs at security forces, causing mild head injuries to two police officers after they arrested an Arab youth who allegedly disturbed the peace and yelled at Jewish visitors to the holy site.
According to Dr. Meir Margalit, a member of the Meretz Party and head of the east Jerusalem Portfolio, the arrest was akin to “playing with fire.”
“I think [the arrest] was a very dangerous reaction and something that can become very dangerous to the city because we are very close to an explosion,” he said by telephone Thursday.
“There are too many people playing with fire – and they don’t understand the risk they are taking.”
Margalit added that the arrest may have exacerbated Palestinian calls for a third intifada due to the religious implications of Hussein’s arrest.
“I caution the police not to deal with the [Palestinian] religious dimension,” he said. “More and more people are talking about a third intifada in the city and this was a red line crossed by the Israeli Police and other government officials.” Margalit continued, “It’s more than important not to transform this conflict into a religious one. But once they arrest a mufti, they turn this problem into a religious one and then no one can know the consequences.”
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld dismissed claims that Hussein’s arrest was a provocation or inappropriate as “absolutely false,” and claimed he was treated respectfully by police at all times while in custody.
“He was questioned cautiously, carefully and respectfully for six hours by members of the Israeli Police Investigative Unit about serious incitement to cause disorder in the Temple Mount over the past few weeks,” Rosenfeld said Thursday.
He maintained that the arrest followed a series of violent incidents against Israelis and Christian visitors, in which Hussein was implicated.
Rosenfeld added that the police have also been dealing with a number of false claims against them by Palestinian worshipers.
“Over the past few weeks there have been inaccurate and false claims by Palestinians about incidents happening at the Temple Mount, such as police entering the mosque,” he said.
“The Israeli police policy is to never enter the mosque – just to carry out security checks and oversee visits by Christians, Israelis and Muslims.”
Still, Ghada Zughayar, executive director of the Coalition for Accountability and Integrity in Palestine, described the arrest as a form of harassment and part of a “series of violations against Palestinian rights in the city.”
“[Hussein’s arrest] is really something that we all denounce – especially at this time, after the visit of the US president to the region and the attempt to restart the [peace] negotiations,” she said.
“Israel continues its escalation of violations against the Palestinian Authority and officials.”
Asked if she believed it was possible that Hussein had indeed incited violence, Zughayar expressed skepticism, dismissing the arrest as a form of Israeli “marketing.”
“I don’t think that he would be involved or engaged in such things,” she said. “Of course the mufti was harassed. He was subjected to interrogation just for being at Al-Aksa mosque and the Dome of the Rock during the celebration of the reunification [Jerusalem Day].”
Zughayar continued, “The Israelis usually try to justify harassment to clean up their image in front of the world. This is part of the way they market themselves to the world – [to claim] that they arrested him for inciting violence, which is untrue.”
Rosenfeld said thousands of police officers were on high alert Wednesday during the 46th Jerusalem Day to protect the 50,000 Jews who marched to the Old City, and left nothing to chance.
“The Israeli Police constantly work to ensure public safety,” he said. “This arrest was made after extensive investigation and is considered a very serious matter that endangered all visitors to the Temple Mount.”
Rosenfeld emphasized that the police work in close coordination with the Muslim Wakf, the religious body that oversees the Temple Mount, and that the two groups treat each with mutual respect.
“We work very closely with them and there are day-to-day dialogues that take place between the Wakf and the police,” he said.
Hussein has not been charged with any crimes.