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With Help From Kerry, Israel And Jordan Reach A Deal To Quell Violence


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has negotiated a deal that he hopes will quell some of the violence that erupted between Israelis and Palestinians in recent weeks. Tensions have been mounting over access to a sensitive religious site in Jerusalem. NPR's Michele Kelemen is travelling with Kerry, who was in Jordan and Saudia Arabia today.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: It took several days of talks in various world capitals and by phone to reach a deal about the Temple Mount, as it's known to Jews, or Haram al-Sharif, as Muslims call it. Kerry has been trying to dispel rumors that Israel seeks to change the status quo there, and he says Jordan's King Abdullah, who's the custodian of the site, came up with an idea to have 24/7 video monitoring.


JOHN KERRY: This will provide comprehensive visibility and transparency. And that could really be a game-changer in discouraging anybody from disturbing the sanctity of this holy site.

KELEMEN: Jews are allowed to visit the site, but only Muslims can pray there. Israel says it's been withholding those and other understandings about access and accuses Palestinians of lying about Israeli intentions and inciting violence. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video message that he will insure access for peaceful visitors while maintaing public order and security.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Israel has no intention to divide the Temple Mount. And we completely reject any attempt to suggest otherwise.

KELEMEN: Kerry says Jordanian and Israeli technical teams will meet soon to iron out how the video monitoring will work. Last year, when similar tensions arose at the site, Kerry managed to bring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu together with King Abdullah to agree on a set of understandings. But those began to fray, as Jordan's foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, explained.


NASSER JUDEH: As always in this part of the world, things have a tendency to erupt when there's a political vacuum and when the arrangements are not watertight.

KELEMEN: Kerry's team didn't try to get all sides together in one meeting this time around. Instead, Kerry met in Berlin with Netanyahu and in Oman with King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Kerry himself points out that the agreements being announced are not, as he put it, a comprehensive detailing of the status quo. He says he's mainly trying to change the conversation and get everyone to tamp down the rhetoric and the incitement.


KERRY: I hope we can begin to turn the page on this very difficult period. 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.

KELEMEN: For his part, Jordan's foreign minister gave Kerry a bit of a pep talk.


JUDEH: Issues in the Middle East are indeed complex. But I think with our collective will and efforts, we can certainly overcome what may be perceived as insurmountable difficulties.

KELEMEN: Everything, he says, is resolvable. Kerry is now in Saudi Arabia, trying to resolve another vexing conflict in the region - the war in Syria. He's planning a major diplomatic push, one that could include Saudi Arabia's main regional rival, Iran. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Riyadh. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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