Israel agrees to surveillance at disputed Jerusalem holy site

Israel’s Prime Minister has agreed to 24-hour video surveillance at a disputed Jerusalem holy site — a move that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said could be “a game-changer” to reduce regional bloodshed.

The round-the-clock observation “will provide comprehensive visibility and transparency” and discourage “anybody from disturbing the sanctity of this holy site,” Kerry said.

“Today I hope that we could begin to turn the page on this very difficult period,” Kerry added.

“We have to join together in calling for an immediate end to violence. We must stress the importance of avoiding provocative actions and rhetoric, and we must work cooperatively. It’s the only way to go forward, is to work cooperative to restore calm,” Kerry said.

Tensions have been brewing for weeks in and around Israel and Palestinian territories, erupting into deadly violence. And much of that has centered on a site in Jerusalem that’s sacred to two religions as the Temple Mount to Jews and as al-Aqsa Mosque complex, or Noble Sanctuary, to Muslims.

Eight Israelis have been killed after being stabbed, shot or run over by Palestinians, violence that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas of inciting partly with his talk about the Jerusalem holy site. On the other side, Israeli security forces have killed at least 45 Palestinians — some of whom had attacked Israelis — and wounded 1,850 in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, of course, has a lot of issues that divide them. Lately, though, much of the heated rhetoric has stemmed from disputes involving the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa Mosque.

Two viewpoints, one tragic outcome

That’s why this topic was high on the agenda for Kerry as he traveled through the region, first meeting with Netanyahu and then heading to Jordan to talk with Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

Prior to leaving Amman for Saudi Arabia, Kerry announced not only the apparent surveillance video, which was proposed by the Jordanian King, but also Israel’s pledge “to continue to enforce its longstanding policy on religious worship at the Temple Mount.” By that, he meant the policy that Jews can visit, but not pray there — given that some Muslims would view such prayers as a provocation. Muslims can pray at al-Aqsa Mosque, per the established protocol.

It’s been even more of a focal point since last month, when clashes between Arab youths and Israeli police broke out after the latter reported receiving intelligence on the eve of Rosh Hashanah that masked demonstrators had barricaded themselves inside al-Aqsa mosque while erecting barriers outside.

Israeli forces currently check people and bags outside the site, but do not patrol inside the premises.

Besides adding video cameras, Israel has no intention to otherwise change the status quo at the site, Kerry insisted Saturday.

He added that Israel does welcome coordination between its authorities and those from Jordan, “including to make sure visitors … maintain restraints and respect for the sanctity of the area.”