Israel, Jordan end diplomatic standoff over embassy shooting
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel and Jordan resolved a diplomatic standoff late Monday after a day of high-level negotiations that ended with the evacuation of Israeli Embassy staff from their base in Jordan to Israel.
The crisis had been triggered by a shooting Sunday in which an Israeli embassy guard killed two Jordanians after one attacked him with a screwdriver. Jordan initially said the guard could only leave after an investigation, while Israel said he enjoyed diplomatic immunity.
The crisis was resolved after a phone call late Monday between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan's King Abdullah II.
The relatively swift end to the standoff could signal progress toward ending another crisis, over a contested Jerusalem holy shrine. Jordan is the Muslim custodian of the site which is also holy to Jews.
On Monday evening, the Israeli security Cabinet met for a second straight day to try find an alternative to metal detectors that had been installed a week earlier at the shrine amid widespread Muslim 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 is located.
Media reports said an emerging deal could see the embassy security guard released in exchange for the removal of the metal detectors.
The 37-acre walled compound in Jerusalem 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.
Netanyahu and Jordan's king discuss the shrine in their phone call, Jordan's state news agency Petra said.
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.
Earlier, the head of Israel's domestic Shin Bet security agency had met with officials in Jordan 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.
Netanyahu's office said the Israeli-Jordanian contacts were conducted in an atmosphere of cooperation. It said there was no Jordan proposal to trade the security guard for a removal of the metal detectors.
As part of intensifying diplomatic efforts, President Donald Trump's Mideast envoy, Jason Greenblatt, met with Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Monday. It was a 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.
Israel has said the metal detectors are a needed security measure to prevent future attacks. On Monday, there were growing signs Israel was testing alternative security arrangements.
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
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.
At the United Nations, Mideast envoy Nikolay Mladenov warned of an escalation if the crisis over the metal detectors isn't resolved by the time of Muslim prayers Friday.
He 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.
Meanwhile, Jordan's Public Security Directorate said it had concluded an investigation of the Israeli Embassy shooting which took place Sunday evening in a residential building used by embassy staff.
The security agency said the incident began when two Jordanians arrived at the building to set up bedroom furniture, including the son of the owner the furniture store, later identified as 17-year-old Mohammed Jawawdeh.
It said a verbal dispute erupted between the son of the owner and the embassy employee because of a delay in delivering the furniture.
The argument took place in the presence of the landlord and a doorman, the agency said.
"The son of the owner attacked the Israeli diplomat and injured him," the statement said. It said the Israeli fired toward the teen, injuring him, and also struck the landlord who was standing nearby.
The two Jordanians died of their injuries at a hospital.
Earlier Monday, al-Jawawdeh's father, Zakariah, had called for an investigation, saying his son deserves justice. It was not clear if the findings of the security agency will satisfy him.
Laub reported from Jericho, West Bank. Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.