Apr 19, 2022 - World

U.S. officials to make emergency trip to calm tensions in Jerusalem

Israeli forces raid Al-Aqsa Mosque after a morning prayer to drive out Palestinian worshippers, in Jerusalem on April 18, 2022.
Israeli forces raid Al-Aqsa Mosque after a morning prayers on April 18, 2022. Photo:

Senior State Department officials will travel this week to Israel, Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority in an effort to de-escalate the crisis in Jerusalem, three sources with direct knowledge tell Axios.

Why it matters: The trip shows the growing concern in Washington that further escalation could spark a new round of violence, like the May 2021 fighting between Israel and Hamas.

  • Acting assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Yael Lempert and Deputy Assistant Secretary Hady Amr are expected to arrive in the region on Wednesday for talks with senior officials in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Amman and Cairo.

Driving the news: The Israeli military struck Hamas camps in the Gaza Strip on Monday after shooting down a rocket fired from Gaza, the first such attack in several months, per Reuters.

  • Hamas did not immediately claim responsibility, but had warned it would respond to Friday's raid by Israeli police of the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem.
  • The Israeli Foreign Ministry said police had been sent in to "disperse" a group of Palestinian "rioters" who were throwing rocks toward the nearby Jewish prayer area of the Western Wall. Over 150 Palestinians were injured and hundreds arrested during the raid.
  • Israeli security forces have also been on high alert amid a wave of terror attacks that killed 14 people in Israel over the last two weeks. Several Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank since early March.

The big picture: Secretary of State Tony Blinken held calls on Monday and Tuesday with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He stressed the need to de-escalate the situation in Jerusalem, the State Department said.

  • Blinken and Safadi discussed the importance of Israelis and Palestinians working to end the cycle of violence by refraining from actions and rhetoric that further escalate tensions.
  • Blinken emphasized the importance of upholding the historic status quo at the Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sarif, and expressed appreciation for Jordan's role as custodian of the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem, the State Department said.

What they're saying: Abbas told Blinken that Israel was violating the historical and legal status quo at the al-Aqsa Mosque and stressed that visits of non-Muslims to the mosque must be coordinated through the Islamic Waqf, the authority that manages the compound, according to a statement from the Palestinian Authority.

  • Abbas warned that further Israeli incursions into Palestinian cities, villages and camps will lead to dire and unbearable consequences.

Lapid told Blinken that Israel is making efforts to ensure freedom of worship for Jews, Muslims and Christians, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said.

  • He also said Israel acted in a "responsible and measured way" in response to the "riots" on the Temple Mount and condemned "disinformation" that he said was "fanning the flames of violence."
  • Lapid emphasized the need for international support for returning calm to Jerusalem.
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