Israel rejects Smotrich's behaviour over flag, Jordan says


Jordan said it has received assurance from Israel that the behaviour of a top ultra-nationalist cabinet minister, who spoke from a podium adorned with a map of an Israeli flag that included Jordan and Palestinian territories, did not represent its position, an official source said on Tuesday.

The source told Reuters that top Israeli officials rejected Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich's move during a speech on Monday, and said that they respected Jordan's borders and Israel's peace treaty with Jordan. Smotrich heads a religious-nationalist party in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-right coalition.

Amman late on Monday summoned the Israeli ambassador in Jordan and said Smotrich's move was a provocative act by an "extremist" and "racist" minister that violated international norms and Jordan's peace treaty with Israel.

"These statements are provocative, racist and come from an extremist figure and we call on the international community to condemn it," Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said at a news conference.

Safadi received a call from Israel's national security advisor, assuring him that Israel - which shares the longest border with its neighbour to the West of the Jordan River - respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country, the source said. Safadi said without elaborating that the government could adopt further steps in the event that Israel repeated such provocations that could inflame passions and spur wider violence.

The Israeli-occupied West Bank has seen a surge of confrontations in recent months, with near-daily Israeli military raids and escalating violence by Jewish settlers, amid a spate of attacks by Palestinians.

Israel's Foreign Ministry wrote on Twitter: "Israel is committed to the 1994 peace agreement with Jordan. There has been no change in the position of the State of Israel, which recognises the territorial integrity of the Hashemite Kingdom."

Smotrich made the speech as Israeli and Palestinian officials met in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for de-escalation talks ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish Passover holiday.

Jordan was stepping up a diplomatic campaign to pressure Israel to lift heavy-handed security measures during the fasting month of Ramadan beginning later this week that would worsen the plight of Palestinians under occupation, Safadi said.

In previous years, Ramadan has seen violent clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians, particularly around Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam's third holiest site, revered as the Temple Mount by Jews. Ramadan coincides this year with Judaism's Passover and Christian Easter.    (Reuters)

More on this topic