Bid to ease Al-Aqsa tension stumbles over cameras

Jerusalem, October 26

Efforts to douse Israeli-Palestinian tensions over Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound ran into trouble today when the Islamic trust which administers the holy site accused Israeli police of blocking the agreed installation of cameras.

Israel on Saturday agreed to install surveillance cameras at the highly-sensitive site after an intense diplomatic drive to calm spiralling violence that many fear heralds a new Palestinian intifada.

In the latest in a wave of knife attacks by Palestinians, a 19-year-old Israeli was stabbed in the neck and severely wounded while his attacker was shot dead, the army said.

Attacks and clashes have become near daily occurrences since simmering tensions over the status of the Al-Aqsa compound boiled over in early October, leaving dozens dead.

The site is sacred to both Muslims and Jews, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday agreed to install the cameras to allay Palestinian fears that Israel plans to change rules governing the site. US Secretary of State John Kerry has said the cameras would be a “game changer in discouraging anybody from disturbing the sanctity of the holy site”.

However the Jordanian trust known as the Waqf which administers the compound said that when a team went to install the cameras today morning, “Israeli police interfered directly and stopped the work.”

“We severely condemn the Israeli interference into the working affairs of the Waqf, and we consider the matter evidence that Israel wants to install cameras that only serve its own interests, not cameras that show truth and justice,” it said in a statement.

Israeli police had no immediate comment.

Netanyahu was set to address parliament later today as part of commemorations of the 20-year anniversary of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, as the fresh wave of violence throws into stark relief the failure to resolve the decades-old conflict. Rabin was gunned down on November 4, 1995 by a right-wing Jewish extremist who hoped to derail the landmark 1993 Oslo accords he inked with the Palestinians.

The deal lies in tatters after repeated failed efforts to solve the conflict, the most recent of which collapsed in April 2014 amid bitter recriminations on both sides.

The latest clashes erupted in September as Muslims protested an increase in Jewish visitors to Al-Aqsa during their religious holidays. Palestinian protesters accuse the Jewish state of seeking to change the rules governing the compound which allows Jews to visit, but not pray there.

The Al-Aqsa mosque compound is situated in east Jerusalem which was seized from Jordan in the 1967 war. While Amman has retained custodial rights over the holy sites, administered by the Jordanian Waqf, Israel controls access.

The compound is considered the third holiest site in Islam and is revered by Jews as their holiest site, known as Temple Mount.

Netanyahu said yesterday that having cameras at the site would be in Israel’s interest.

“Firstly, to refute the claim Israel is violating the status quo. Secondly, to show where the provocations are really coming from, and prevent them in advance,” he said. Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh had said that technical teams from both sides would meet to work out details of the new measures.

Sheikh Azzam al-Khateeb, head of the Waqf, told AFP that the decision to install the cameras today came from Jordanian King Abdullah II. “We want to have clear and open cameras for all the world,” he said. “There is no other authority in the mosque except the administration of the Jordanian Islamic Waqf ... no one has the right to (carry out) this action except the Waqf administration.”