Israeli police officers are seen outside the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, Monday. Israeli media reports high resolution cameras placed around Jerusalem’s Old City walls could replace the metal detectors that sparked Muslim outrage after they were set outside entrances to a major shrine. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Israel seeks alternative to metal detectors to end crisis

JERUSALEM — Israel’s security Cabinet met for a second straight day Monday to try to defuse an escalating crisis with the Muslim world and find an alternative to metal detectors that had been installed a week earlier at a contested Jerusalem shrine amid widespread protests.

Ministers were being asked to consider the installation of sophisticated, high-resolution cameras and increased police deployments as a replacement for the metal detectors, Israeli media said.

The cameras would be installed in Jerusalem’s Old City where the shrine, revered by Muslims and Jews, is located.

Meanwhile, a diplomatic standoff with Jordan, over a deadly shooting at the Israeli embassy in the kingdom, added another complication — but also a new opening to end the showdown over the Jerusalem holy site.

At issue is the fate of an Israeli embassy guard who killed two Jordanians after being attacked by one of them with a screwdriver.

Jordan said he can only leave the country after an investigation. Israel said the guard has diplomatic immunity.

Jordan is also heavily involved in efforts to defuse the crisis at the Jerusalem holy site. Israeli media said an emerging deal could see the guard freed in exchange for the removal of the metal detectors.

The head of Israel’s domestic Shin Bet security agency met with officials in Jordan on Monday to resolve the crisis, the worst between the two countries in recent years. Jordan and Israel have a peace agreement and share security interests, but frequently disagree over policies at the shrine.

Later Monday, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone, Jordan’s state news agency Petra reported.

The king stressed the need to “remove the measures taken by the Israeli side since the recent crisis broke out” and to agree on steps that would prevent another escalation in the future, Petra said.

Netanyahu’s office said the Israeli-Jordanian contacts were conducted in an atmosphere of co-operation. It said there was no Jordan proposal to trade the security guard for a removal of the metal detectors.

Jordan is the Muslim custodian of the shrine, which is also holy to Jews. The 37-acre walled compound is the third holiest site of Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. It is also the holiest site of Judaism, revered as the place where biblical Temples once stood.

As part of intensifying diplomatic efforts, President Donald Trump’s Mideast envoy, Jason Greenblatt, met with Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Monday. It was the high-level, on-the-ground attempt by the Trump administration to end the standoff between Israel and the Muslim world.

The escalation began earlier this month when Arab gunmen fired from the holy site, killing two Israeli policemen. In response, Israel installed metal detectors at the site, a move that incensed the Muslim world.

Muslim leaders alleged Israel was trying to expand its control at the site under the guise of security, a claim Israel has denied. The tensions have led to mass prayer protests and deadly Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Netanyahu’s government faced growing domestic criticism in recent days, with some commentators saying it made hasty decisions affecting the most volatile spot of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The fate of the holy compound is at the heart of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Even the smallest perceived change to delicate arrangements there sparks tensions.

The U.N. Mideast envoy warned of an escalation if the crisis over the metal detectors isn’t resolved by the time of Muslim prayers Friday.

Nikolay Mladenov told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council behind closed doors Monday that it is “critically important” that the status quo which has been in place at the site since 1967 is preserved.

Israel captured the shrine, along with east Jerusalem and other territories, in the 1967 war. Since then, Muslims have administered the shrine, with Jews allowed to visit, but not to pray there.

The Amman shooting took place on Sunday evening in a residential building used by the embassy staff.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the incident began when two Jordanian workmen arrived at the building to replace furniture. It said one of the workers, later identified as a 17-year-old of Palestinian origin, attacked an Israeli security guard with a screwdriver.

The guard opened fire, killing the teen. A second Jordanian, the owner of the building who was also a physician, was hit by gunfire and later died of his wounds. The guard was lightly hurt, the ministry said.

The father of the slain teen called for an investigation and said he would not bury his son until he was shown security camera footage of the incident.

Zakariah al-Jawawdeh told The Associated Press that his son Mohammed is a “son of Jordan who was shot on Jordanian soil” and he deserved justice.

Israel’s security Cabinet met from late Sunday until the early hours of Monday to discuss the crisis at the shrine and the embassy shooting, and convened again Monday evening.

Israel has said the metal detectors were a needed security measure to prevent future attacks. On Monday, there were growing signs Israel was testing alternative security arrangement.

At one of the gates to the shrine, Israel set up metal railings leading to the metal detectors. Such railings are typically used for crowd control, to create orderly lines.

A media report has suggested that such railings could be part of an eventual compromise that would enable the removal of the metal detectors.

In another sign of the tense atmosphere, a Palestinian assailant stabbed an Arab citizen of Israel in the neck in central Israel, apparently mistaking him for a Jew, police said. The assailant was detained after a worker at a restaurant hit the attacker with a heavy wooden pizza tray.

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