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Kerry: Time Not Right for Abbas-Netanyahu Meeting


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, from left, meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan's King Abdullah in Amman, Jordan, Nov. 13, 2014.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said this is not the right time for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to hold new face-to-face negotiations.

Kerry held talks Thursday in Amman with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordanian King Abdullah, as well as a separate meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

When asked why Abbas and Netanyahu did not meet together, Kerry said "It is not yet the right moment for the two sides to come together." Also, "they both need to see that things are changing."

Tensions have grown in Jerusalem in the past several weeks over the Temple Mount - a holy site that Muslims call the al-Aqsa mosque. The site is revered by both Jews and Muslims, and is administered by Jordan.

The U.S. secretary of state said all sides have assured him they are committed to restoring calm and taking what he called "real steps" instead of just rhetoric. Kerry did not give any details of those steps.

Under a long-standing agreement, Jews can visit the Temple Mount, but not openly pray there, to avoid offending Arabs.

But some Jews have been pushing for an expansion of the right to worship at the site.

Meanwhile, Israel is lifting age restrictions for Muslims who want to worship at the Temple Mount - the Jerusalem holy site that Muslims call al-Aqsa mosque.

Israeli police had been limiting access to the site to women and men 35 and older, fearing youths planned to stir up violence.

Earlier this month, a Palestinian gunman seriously wounded a U.S.-born rabbi after a conference on greater rights at the Temple Mount. Israeli police shot and killed the gunman.

Last week, Jordan recalled its ambassador to Israel to protest what it called “unacceptable” Israeli raids at the mosque and in East Jerusalem.

Kerry and Abbas reportedly discussed rebuilding efforts in the Gaza Strip, where Israeli airstrikes destroyed entire neighborhoods during a 50-day war that also left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead.

The meeting at Abbas' residence in Amman came hours after new clashes occurred in east Jerusalem. Israeli police fired tear gas, percussion bombs and rubber bullets to disperse Palestinian demonstrators.

Violence has flared in the past few weeks over Jerusalem's most sacred and politically sensitive site, revered by Muslims as Noble Sanctuary, where al-Aqsa mosque stands, and by Jews as the Temple Mount, where their biblical temples once stood.

Tensions over the compound, the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest place in Judaism, have fuelled repeated clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians in recent weeks, culminating in a one-day closure of the mosque last month.

In a move likely to further heighten tensions around the Al-Aqsa compound, Israel's Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said late Wednesday that he would reinstall metal detectors at the entrances along with new facial-recognition technology.

Rising violence, tensions

The trilateral meeting comes after a spate of deadly incidents in Jerusalem, including stabbings and car-rammings of pedestrians by Palestinians.

Anger over what is seen as the Israeli government's neglect of predominantly Arab East Jerusalem is another major factor, said Rami Nasrallah, director of the International Peace and Cooperation Institute in Jerusalem.

Tensions were raised on Wednesday after Israel announced a new round of planned housing construction in a Jewish section of east Jerusalem. Palestinians reject Israeli construction in areas they want in a future state, including east Jerusalem, which they envision as their capital.

The U.S. State Department said Wednesday Washington is deeply concerned about Israel's construction plans, which "fly in the face of the stated goal of achieving a two-state solution."

Ahead of Kerry's arrival, Abdullah met Abbas in Amman for talks in which he expressed his "total rejection" of Israel's "repeated aggressions and provocations in Jerusalem," a palace statement said.

Jordan borders the West Bank and has a large Palestinian population.

As the custodian of the Muslim holy sites of Jerusalem and with significant influence in the West Bank, Jordan also plays a key moderating and mediating role between Israel and the Palestinians.

Pam Dockins contributed to this story from Amman, Jordan. Some material for this report came from Reuters, AP and AFP.

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