By DAOUD KUTTAB
AMMAN: Jordan and Palestine agreed on Monday to set up a crisis committee to study the situation at Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem.
Last month’s clashes at the holy site claimed the lives of 20 Palestinians, including five children, according to the Abdallah Al-Hourani Center for Studies and Documentation. Tensions rose after Israel erected metal detectors at the gates to the mosque site, after Arab gunmen killed two Israeli police guards there.
The probe into the crisis announced on Monday came as Jordan’s King Abdallah met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank for the first time in five years to discuss tensions at the holy site and wider political developments.
“Both sides agreed to form a joint crisis committee to evaluate the previous phase, draw lessons and evaluate any future challenges regarding the situation in Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki said after the meeting.
King Abdallah’s lightning visit to the presidential headquarters in Ramallah is being seen by many as a courtesy call and a public statement of support to Palestinians.
The king’s helicopter touched down at 12:45 p.m. and left Ramallah at 2:10 p.m. No press conference was held after the summit.
The visit supports the relationship between Jordanians and Palestinians and aims to raise the level of Palestinian-Jordan coordination, commented Samir Barhoum, editor in chief of the Jordan Times English-language daily.
“We have to always coordinate with each other, especially when it comes to Al-Aqsa/Haram Al-Sharif,” he said.
Barhoum also said that the brief visit might have been a courtesy call and a show of support for the elderly Palestinian leader.
President Abbas checked into a local Ramallah hospital recently and was declared fit after what was called a “routine” checkup. Palestinian officials have refused to discuss the president’s health condition, insisting that he is in good shape.
Saeb Erekat, PLO secretary-general and chief negotiator, who is reportedly in need of a lung transplant, attended Monday’s summit along with foreign ministers and heads of the intelligence services from both sides.
A PLO source told Arab News that Erekat had cancelled all his meetings on Sunday to get rest ahead of the summit.
The visit is important for President Abbas, commented Kaied Maari, executive director of the Witness Center, a Nablus-based think tank.
“The challenges (facing) Abbas are very big. It comes after the Palestinian leadership had decided unanimously to suspend security coordination with Israel,” he told Arab News.
The decision was taken after Abbas returned from a truncated state visit to China on July 22 because of the protests at Al-Aqsa. Part of the coordination with Israel includes the VIP passes given to senior Palestinian officials such as Abbas to ease their travel through checkpoints and across border points.
Abbas did not join the king on his return trip to Amman, 150 km from Ramallah, although there was speculation earlier that the president might fly back to Jordan in the royal helicopter so that he would not need Israeli permission to travel.
According to Jordan’s Petra News Agency, both leaders stressed the need to preserve the historical and legal status quo of Al-Aqsa Mosque and Haram Al-Sharif site. Changes to the arrangement will have negative consequences for the region as a whole, both leaders noted.
Abbas praised the “efforts exerted by King Abdallah to serve the Palestinian cause; through raising and defending it in all international forums,” the official Palestinian news agency Wafa quoted the presidential spokesman as saying.
© Arab News 2017
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