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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Jerusalem issue 'a red line', says Jordan's king

King Abdullah of Jordan added to pressure on Israel over its settlements policy today, demanding the international community take firm action over what he called the "red line" of Jerusalem.

Abdullah, a close ally of the US and Britain, demanded "firm, swift, direct and effective action to stop Israel's provocative measures in Jerusalem that seek to change its identity and threaten holy sites".

"Jerusalem is a red line and the world should not be silent about Israel's attempts to get rid of Jerusalem's Arab residents, Muslims or Christians," the king told Lady Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, according to a palace statement.

Ashton is visiting Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip tomorrow before flying to Moscow to join a meeting of the Middle East Quartet: Hillary Clinton for the US, the UN's Ban Ki-Moon, Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and Tony Blair, the Quartet's special representative.

Abdullah's comments came a day after the worst clashes in months broke out across East Jerusalem during a "day of rage" announced by Hamas, as the Palestinian movement urged Muslims to reach the al-Aqsa mosque to protect it from an alleged Israeli takeover attempt.

Tensions soared over the rededication of the 17th century Hurva synagogue and Israel's announcement that it was building 1,600 new homes for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem. The al-Aqsa mosque compound was reopened and a closure of the West Bank lifted yesterday.

Jordan is one of only three Arab countries that have peace treaties with Israel. Abdullah's uncharacteristically strong language reflects a pro-western camp dismayed by the deadlock in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and the opportunities it offers to Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, which backs both Islamist groups.

King Abdullah has a special position because the 1994 Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty recognises the Hashemite kingdom's "historic" role in caring for the Muslim holy sites in East Jerusalem.
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