A top aide to US President Donald Trump was due in Israel Monday in a bid to ease tensions over new security measures at a highly sensitive Jerusalem holy site after a weekend of deadly violence.
Jason Greenblatt’s visit comes after more than a week of tensions over the Haram al-Sharif mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel installed metal detectors at entrances to the site, which includes Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, following an attack on July 14 that killed two policemen.
Palestinians view the move as Israel asserting further control over the site. They have refused to enter the compound in protest and have prayed in the streets outside.
Israeli authorities say the metal detectors are needed because the July 14 attackers smuggled guns into the site and emerged from it to shoot the officers.
Clashes have broken out during protests over the measures, leaving five Palestinians dead.
On Friday, a Palestinian broke into a home in a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank and stabbed three Israelis to death.
An incident on Sunday night in Amman that, according to Israeli officials, saw a Jordanian attack an Israeli security guard with a screwdriver at the Israeli embassy compound raised further concerns, though it was not immediately clear if there was any link.
The security guard was said to have shot dead the Jordanian, while a second Jordanian there at the time was also killed.
Separately on Monday, Israeli tank fire struck a Hamas post in the Gaza Strip after what was believed to be a rocket from the enclave landed in an open area in Israel.
With fears further unrest could follow, Greenblatt “departed for Israel last night to support efforts to reduce tensions in the region,” a US official said on condition of anonymity.
The UN Security Council will also hold closed-door talks Monday about the spiralling violence after Egypt, France and Sweden sought a meeting to “urgently discuss how calls for de-escalation in Jerusalem can be supported”.
Israeli officials have signalled they may be open to changing the measures at the holy site. Cameras have been installed at entrances in a possible indication of an alternative to the metal detectors.
“Since the start of the events, I have held a series of assessments with security elements including those in the field,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday.
“We are receiving from them an up-to-date picture of the situation, as well as recommendations for action, and we will decide accordingly.”
Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit on Sunday accused Israel of “playing with fire” with the new security measures, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called them an insult to the Muslim world.
Pope Francis said he was following events with concern and urged dialogue and moderation.
Friday’s main weekly Muslim prayers — which typically draw thousands to Al-Aqsa — brought the situation to a boil.
In anticipation of protests, Israel barred men under 50 from entering the Old City for prayers.
Clashes broke out between Israeli security forces and Palestinians around the Old City, in other parts of annexed east Jerusalem and in the occupied West Bank, leaving three Palestinians dead.
They continued on Saturday, leaving two more Palestinians dead, including one when a petrol bomb exploded prematurely. More scuffles broke out around Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday night.
Friday evening also saw a Palestinian break into a home in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank during a Sabbath dinner and stab four Israelis, killing three.
The Israeli army said the 19-year-old Palestinian had spoken in a Facebook post of the holy site and of dying as a martyr.
The holy site in Jerusalem has served as a rallying cry for Palestinians.
In 2000, then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon’s visit to the compound helped ignite the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, which lasted more than four years.
It is in east Jerusalem, seized by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.
Considered the third holiest site in Islam, it is the most sacred for Jews.