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Jordan protests Israel after envoy blocked from holy site

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JERUSALEM — Jordan summoned Israel’s ambassador to Amman on Tuesday to protest an Israeli police decision to block the Jordanian envoy from entering a volatile holy site in Jerusalem. The incident quickly escalated tensions between neighbors and reflected heightened sensitivity around the holy compound under Israel’s new ultranationalist government.

Jordan’s Foreign Ministry said its ambassador to Israel, Ghassan Majali, was prevented from entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, Islam’s third holiest site. The site, sitting on a vast plateau also housing the iconic golden Dome of the Rock, is revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews as the Temple Mount.

The compound is administered by Jordanian religious authorities under an unofficial agreement after Israel took control of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. Israel is responsible for security at the site .

Israeli police said Majali arrived at the holy site “without any prior coordination with police officials”, prompting an officer at the entrance to the compound who did not recognize the diplomat to inform his commander of the unexpected visit. Pending instructions, officers detained Majali, along with Azzam al-Khatib, the director of the Jerusalem Waqf. The ambassador refused to wait and decided to leave, Israeli police said.

About two hours later, state media in Jordan reported that Majali eventually entered the compound without showing any sort of permission and held talks with al-Khatib, who “informed him of Israeli violations at Al-Aqsa “.

Images widely shared online show Majali, among other Muslim worshipers, at the limestone Lion Gate entrance to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City. An Israeli policeman blocks his way and yells at Majali in Arabic to turn back, according to the video. Al-Khatib picks up the phone as visitors argue with officers amid the crackle of the policeman’s walkie-talkie.

“If the ambassador had briefly waited a few more minutes for the officer to be informed, the group would have entered,” police said, stressing that “coordination” with Israeli police was routine before such visits.

But Jordan described the move as an unusual provocation. The Jordanian Foreign Ministry said the Israeli ambassador had received a “strongly worded letter of protest to be forwarded immediately to his government”. He said Jordanian officials did not need permission to enter the site due to the country’s role as official guardian and warned Israel against any action that would undermine the sanctity of the holy sites.

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

Tuesday was the second time Jordan had summoned Israel’s ambassador to Amman since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new right-wing and religiously conservative government came to power. Earlier this month, Israel’s National Security Minister, ultra-nationalist Itamar Ben-Gvir, visited the holy site in Jerusalem despite threats from the militant group Hamas and a cascade of condemnation from the Arab world.

Jordan, along with the Palestinians and many Muslims, sees Israeli visits to the compound as an attempt to change the status of the site and give Jewish worshipers more rights there. Ben-Gvir and other far-right ministers who swear a hard line against the Palestinians have threatened to test Israel’s ties with Arab states – including Jordan and Egypt which have maintained peace treaties of several decades with Israel.

On Tuesday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi received Jordanian and Palestinian leaders for talks on the state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a joint statement, el-Sissi, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on Israel to end “all illegitimate unilateral measures” that undermine the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and to maintain the status quo at the Noble Sanctuary. .

Any change to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound – one of the region’s most contested sites – could become a major new flashpoint between Israel and the Muslim world. Past Israeli actions there have sparked violent protests and wider conflict.

Associated Press writers Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan, and Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed to this report.

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