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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Jordan and Israel in diplomatic stand-off after shooting incident at Amman embassy

Two Jordanians were shot dead and an Israeli security officer wounded at the Israeli embassy on Sunday, with the circumstances surrounding the incident still unclear

Mohammed Jawawdeh's father, Zakaria Jawawdeh (L), gestures at a funeral reception for his son in Amman on July 24, 2017. Ahmed Abdo / EPA
Mohammed Jawawdeh's father, Zakaria Jawawdeh (L), gestures at a funeral reception for his son in Amman on July 24, 2017. Ahmed Abdo / EPA

A shooting and an alleged stabbing attack near the grounds of the Israeli embassy in Amman escalated on Monday into a diplomatic stand-off between Jordan and Israel as tensions over restrictions at Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem threaten to ignite violence on both banks of the River Jordan.

Two Jordanians were shot dead and an Israeli security officer wounded in Sunday's incident at the Israeli embassy, with the exact details and series of events still unclear. Amman has blocked the Israeli security officer — who is believed to be back at the embassy compound after receiving treatment in hospital for stab wounds - from leaving the country in order to carry out further investigations.

Israel on Monday demanded the immediate return of the security officer, who they claim holds diplomatic immunity from investigation and imprisonment, citing the Vienna Convention.

The diplomatic row began when 17-year-old Mohammed Jawawdeh, a carpenter who also worked in his father’s furniture store in downtown Amman, was hired to repair and replace furniture in an apartment rented out to the Israeli embassy — and adjacent to the embassy building — on Sunday, the Jordanian police say.

According to the Israeli foreign ministry’s version of events, Jawawdeh was replacing furniture within the embassy compound itself when he attacked the deputy director of the embassy's security from behind with a screwdriver, causing the officer to withdraw his gun and fire. Jawawdeh was shot dead.

The second person killed in the incident was the landlord of the apartment, renowned Jordanian physician and orthopaedic surgeon Bashar Hamarneh, who was also shot dead by the Israeli security officer. Hamarneh appeared to have been killed accidentally, an Israeli official told Reuters.

Jordanian security sources say it is the circumstances surrounding Hamarneh's death, and the questionable order of events that have caused Jordanian officials to order the Israeli security officer to remain in the country for questioning.

Conflicting reports claim that a third Jordanian, another carpenter, was also injured in the shooting, which Jordanian police said took place at the rented apartment.

Local media reports quoting the family of Hamarneh, however, claimed that the shooting took place at the physician’s home near the embassy, not at the rental property.

Jawawdeh’s family, who hail from the 1948 Palestinian village of Dawayima, near the West Bank city of Hebron, have demanded a full investigation into the incident and the release of Israeli security camera footage around the embassy, according to Jordanian media reports.

The Israeli embassy sits upon a hill in the west Amman neighbourhood of Rabiah. Along the road leading to the embassy, private cars and taxis are stopped by multiple checkpoints before being allowed to continue, and many are turned back.

Neighbouring residents must also register their movements and vehicles with the Jordanian police.

Jordan has in the past managed to contain anger against Israel on the streets, preventing anti-Israel protests and pro-Palestine rallies from getting any closer than two kilometres away from the heavily-fortressed Israeli embassy. Previous protests that have been held near the neighbourhood but within the permitted zone have been broken up by Jordanian police with force.

“All diplomatic institutions, including Israeli, are well-protected in Jordan, this is an isolated incident and the circumstances are not yet clear,” said Nabil Sharif, former Jordanian information minister and observer.

“We look forward to a solution to the aftermath of this situation that respects Jordan’s sovereignty and puts people who are involved in the incident in the hands of justice in accordance to local and international law.”

Whether the shooting was spurred by a revenge attack by the teenage carpenter, was an act of aggression by the security officer or was simply a tragic misunderstanding that escalated, the incident yet again highlights Jordan’s precarious peace with Israel — and the reverberations of the Israeli government’s policies in its neighbour.

Jordan has deep security ties with Israel which are often tested in times of tensions in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.

The closure of the Israeli embassy in Amman and an end to the 1994 Wadi Araba treaty between Jordan and Israel have been common demands by protesters in Jordan, particularly of demonstrations organised by the Islamist or leftist opposition.

Control of Al Aqsa mosque and the surrounding compound, known as Haram Al Sharif, remains a vital issue for Jordan. Under its peace treaty with Israel, Jordan is the official custodian of Haram Al Sharif and is itself home to over two million Palestinian refugees. Israel's move to install metal detectors at Al Aqsa has sparked a wave of protests against what has been widely perceived as a step towards Israel's takeover of the site — the third holiest in Islam.

On Monday, Jordan's King Abdullah spoke with Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and stressed the need for a quick resolution to the crisis at Haram Al Sharif, including a return to Al Aqsa mosque that was fully open..

Events in Palestine also have reverberations among Jordan’s non-Palestinian tribes, many of whom have relatives who fought and died in the 1948 and 1967 wars with Israel and are strongly against the presence of an Israeli embassy in Amman.

Sunday's embassy incident came 48 hours after thousands of Jordanians protested across the country against security restrictions at Haram Al Sharif, with rallies taking place in the capital, as well as the cities of Zarqa and Karak and the town of Salt.

On Friday, the Jordanian government sanctioned its imams to devote their Friday sermons to the issue of Al Aqsa and the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem. The passionate sermons were well-attended, emotional and received vocal responses from prayer-goers.

In one Friday sermon in west Amman, the imam referred to Zionist plots to take Palestine, urged a boycott of business with Israeli companies or government, and likened the standoff over Al Aqsa to the betrayal of Muslims by a Jewish tribe in Medina in the seventh-century Battle of the Trench.