Israeli leaders visit Jordan to seek calm ahead of Ramadan

Amman (AFP) – Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz on Tuesday met Jordan's King Abdullah II on a mission to Amman seeking to ensure calm in the Palestinian territories during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

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Tensions flared last year during the fasting month, which starts in April, between Israeli forces and Palestinians visiting Al-Aqsa mosque in annexed east Jerusalem, leading to 11 days of conflict between Israel and the Islamist movement Hamas which rules Gaza.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog is also due to visit Amman on Wednesday, two days after Abdullah made a rare trip to the Israeli-occupied West Bank to meet Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas.

The king called on Gantz to "lift all obstacles that could prevent (Muslims) from performing prayers" at Al-Aqsa and "prevent any provocations that could lead to escalation", the palace said in a statement.

"The upholding of calm requires respect for the rights of Muslims to perform their religious rites at Al-Aqsa," the third holiest site in Islam, said the king, whose country serves as custodian of the holy places in east Jerusalem as well as mediator between Israel and the Palestinians.

Gantz stressed in his talks the "importance of maintaining regional stability and the necessity to combat terrorism".

An Israeli security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, previously said: "Hamas doesn't want war right now, but they want to show they are still in conflict with Israel."

On Sunday-Monday, Israel hosted a landmark meeting between Israel's foreign minister and his counterparts from four Arab countries which have ties with the Jewish state, as well as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Jordan was the only Arab country with full Israeli ties that was not at the Negev encounter.

Blinken separately met Abbas, who condemned what he described as Western "double standards", saying they penalised Russia over its invasion of Ukraine while ignoring Israel's "crimes" against the Palestinians.