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Tensions In Jerusalem Strain Jordan's Relationship With Israel


The deadly attack on a Jerusalem synagogue yesterday escalated ongoing unrest in that city. For weeks, tensions have risen over a holy site contested by Muslims and Jews. That tension has spilled over into relations between Israel and Jordan, a key, and rare, Arab ally. Here's NPR's Emily Harris, who is in Jordan this week.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Last week, before yesterday's synagogue attack, Israel's ambassador to Jordan discussed the tensions roiling Jerusalem then. Palestinians accused Israelis of seeking to take over the holy site Jews call the Temple Mount, and Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary, where Islam's sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque stands. At a conference in Jerusalem, Ambassador Daniel Nevo said the situation was dangerous.


DANIEL NEVO: Most of 1.8 billion Muslims in the world don't really care about reality or about the facts. What they care is some of the imams will say that the Jews are conquesting or penetrating Al-Aqsa. It's enough. And it is enough to put every Israeli and Jew all around the world in jeopardy.

HARRIS: In Jordan's capital city, Amman, people say what's happening in Jerusalem is important to them.

Barber Mohammad Rashid snips, shaves and chats all day. Like half of Jordan's population, he and his customers are Palestinian Jordanians. Everyone in the shop nods when he says this.

MOHAMMAD RASHID: (Through translator) Al-Aqsa is not the property of Palestinian Muslims. It's the property of all Muslims, from Turkey, Indonesia - anywhere in the world. Muslims have to support Al-Aqsa.

HARRIS: Jerusalem is a big issue in Jordan for a couple of reasons. First, under the landmark 20-year-old peace treaty with Israel, Jordan is formally recognized as the custodian of that Muslim holy site, the Al-Aqsa compound. Second, the tensions over the compound are now stressing that important agreement.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

HARRIS: Two weeks ago, Islamists led a rally in Amman supporting Jerusalem's Muslim holy sites and calling for an end to the peace deal with Israel. Yesterday, Jordanian Minister of Religious Affairs Hayel Daoud accused Israel of not abiding by the treaty.

HAYEL DAOUD: (Through translator) Israel is not abiding by its commitment to recognize the legal and religious authority of Jordan over the holy sites. This is a clear violation of the articles of the peace treaty. It's alarming and feeds extremism in the region.

HARRIS: No one expects the treaty to be canceled, but Jordan recalled its ambassador to Israel over increased visits by Jewish extremists to the contested site. Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew the half hour to Amman to meet with King Abdullah and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry about Jerusalem. Palestinian political analyst Daoud Kuttab splits his time between Jordan and Jerusalem. He says the trilateral meeting was a smart move by the king.

DAOUD KUTTAB: It was well-received because it brought Netanyahu, in a way, on his knees to Jordan in trying to kind of get the king's help, and then the Israelis didn't reciprocate. For example, they didn't, you know, recall their ambassador. They said no, no, no, no, no, let's calm things down.

HARRIS: Kuttab says Netanyahu has to talk to the king of Jordan about Jerusalem in part because Israel regularly shuts down Palestinian political organizations in the city, creating a leadership void.

KUTTAB: Every smell of any kind of an attempt to create local leadership has been totally attacked, and now they're stuck with, you know, all these lone wolves - lone individuals carrying out axes and driving and running over people. And there's no one that you can actually go to to kind of calm things down.

HARRIS: After yesterday's deadly attack in a Jerusalem synagogue, Netanyahu called on all civilized heads of state to show outrage and deep condemnation of the murders of Israeli Jews. Jordan's government spokesman issued a statement today condemning civilian deaths in general and calling for an end to violations against the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Emily Harris, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.