Kerry: Foreign presence not needed at Jerusalem holy site

AP News
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Posted: Oct 19, 2015 9:50 AM
Kerry: Foreign presence not needed at Jerusalem holy site

MADRID (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that a proposed international presence at the Jerusalem holy site at the center of escalating Israeli, Palestinian tension and violence is not needed.

Instead, he said what is needed is clarity over pledges by Israel to maintain the status quo at the hilltop compound revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third-holiest shrine and a key national symbol for the Palestinians.

"We don't contemplate any change, but nor does Israel," Kerry told reporters at a news conference in Madrid. "Israel understands the importance of that status quo. What is important is to make sure everybody understands what that means. We are not seeking some new change. We are not seeking outsiders or others to come in ... "

"We need to have clarity," he said.

France has proposed action at the United Nations that could see an international presence to ensure the status quo at the site, where Jews are allowed to visit but not to pray.

Kerry noted that not only are the U.S. and Israel opposed to the move, so is Jordan, which governs the agreement regarding the site.

An Israeli official said France's ambassador to Israel has been summoned to the Israeli Foreign Ministry in the wake of France's proposal.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said Israel expressed its "firm opposition" over the French proposal for a United Nations Security Council resolution that would establish an international presence to ensure the status quo at the site, where Jews are allowed to visit but not pray.

Nahshon said Monday that Israel is opposed to any moves not coordinated or proposed jointly with Israel that related to the country's "critical interests."

The Israeli spokesman says the French ambassador told Israeli officials that France is exploring different ideas to tackle what he called "the continuing freeze in the peace process."

The current outbreak of violence was fueled by rumors that Israel was plotting to take over the area. Israel has adamantly denied the allegations, saying there are no plans to change the status quo and accuses the Palestinians of incitement by spreading the rumors.

Kerry will be meeting this week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah and he said they would be looking "to be able to find a way of making certain that everybody is clear with what is happening with respect to the Temple Mount."

He said it is imperative that all sides take urgent action to end the "senseless" violence taking place in Israel and the West Bank.

Kerry, who plans to see Netanyahu in Berlin later this week and meet with Abbas in Jordan over the weekend, called on all sides to exercise restraint and refrain from actions that could escalate the situation.

He also pushed back on suggestions that diplomacy should take a back seat to the immediate goal of restoring stability.

"Security and diplomacy go hand in hand," Kerry said. "There is not a time for one and then the other. There is an importance to both."

In addition to his meetings with Abbas and Netanyahu, Kerry also said he would be meeting this week in Europe with the foreign ministers of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Russia to discuss the crisis in Syria and the need for a political transition to end the conflict.

"This is a human catastrophe unfolding before our eyes and it is a catastrophe that now threatens the integrity of a whole group of countries throughout the region," he said.

Kerry said his meetings on Syria would "work through real and tangible options that could perhaps re-ignite the political process and bring about political transition in Syria: a transition to a government that responds not to a dictator's whims but to the desperate needs and wishes of the Syrian people."