Israel cites 'self-defense' in Amman embassy shooting

Reuters , Monday 24 Jul 2017

Israeli embassy
Jordanian security forces stand guard outside the Israeli embassy in the residential Rabiyeh neighbourhood of the capital Amman following an 'incident' on July 23, 2017. (AFP)

An Israeli embassy security guard shot dead a Jordanian who stabbed him with a screwdriver in the Amman mission compound in an incident in which a Jordanian bystander was also killed, Israel said on Monday.

The incident on Sunday night has tested already tense relations between Israel and Jordan, one of two Arab states with which it has peace treaties. Jordan wanted to question the guard, who was slightly hurt, but Israel said he had diplomatic immunity and should be repatriated.

Israel's foreign ministry said the security officer had acted in self-defense when he shot his attacker, a workman at the embassy compound. His father said he was a 16-year-old with no militant links.

The Jordanian bystander appeared to have been killed accidentally, an official told Reuters.

Israeli media said the guard was holed up in the fortress-like embassy along with the ambassador and other staff while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent an envoy to try to defuse the stand-off with the Jordanians.

Israel censored overnight media reports on the incident in what it called a move to protect the diplomats from reprisals, and its statement on Monday did not detail the aftermath. In brief remarks to reporters, Netanyahu said he had phoned the guard and "promised to bring him back".

Israeli-Jordanian tensions have escalated since Israel installed metal detectors at entry points to Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem after two police guards were shot dead by gunmen there on July 14.

Jordan is the custodian of the Al-Aqsa complex and has a large Palestinian population, making Amman sensitive to any changes of status at the site which Israel captured along with other East Jerusalem and West Bank areas in the 1967 war, in a move condemned by the international community.

Israel's foreign ministry said the Jordanian who stabbed the guard was a workman who was at the embassy compound to replace furniture. "The security officer responded in self-defense," the statement said.

A second Jordanian, who owned the rented property where the work took place, was accidentally shot dead by the guard, an official briefed on the incident told Reuters on condition he would not be identified by name or nationality.

The first slain Jordanian, Mohammad Jawawdah, was 16 years old and had no militant links, his father Zakaria told Reuters.

"My son was not a trouble-maker or a terrorist and he did not belong to any political parties," said Zakaria Jawawdah, whose family has Palestinian roots. "I want to know how the investigation is going and know what happened and what led to the killing of my son."

Jordan has confirmed there were Jordanian fatalities and a wounded Israeli in the incident, but has not elaborated.

The Israeli embassy in the affluent Rabae district of Amman is protected by Jordanian gendarmes. It has long been a flashpoint of anti-Israel protests at times of turmoil in the Palestinian territories.

A U.S. official said that President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, was due in Israel on Monday and was likely to attempt some mediation in the crisis.

Violence against Israelis is rare in Jordan, a tightly policed country that is also a staunch regional ally of the United States. It also shares a long border with Israel.

Israel and Jordan made peace in 1994. Relations plummeted three years later when Israeli spies were arrested in Amman after poisoning senior Hamas official Khaled Meshaal.

Jordan freed the would-be assassins after Israel delivered an antidote that saved Meshaal's life. Israel also released Hamas's founder and spiritual leader, Ahmed Yassin, from jail as part of the swap. In 2004, Israel killed Yassin in a Gaza air strike, saying he was behind a wave of Hamas suicide bombings.

Netanyahu was also prime minister at that time.

*The story was edited by Ahram Online. 

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