Jordan's king flew by helicopter to the West Bank in a rare visit seen as a signal to Israel that he is closing ranks with the Palestinians on key issues, such as a contested Jerusalem shrine. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas received Abdullah II with a red-carpet welcome in his government compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah — just a 40-minute drive from the Israeli prime minister's office in Jerusalem.
The monarch's West Bank visit, his first in five years, came at a time of rising Israeli-Jordanian and Israeli-Palestinian tensions over the shrine, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount. The crisis erupted when Israel installed metal detectors at gates to the Muslim-administered site after Arab gunmen killed two Israeli policemen there in mid-July.
The monarch's role in the standoff with Israel was complicated by a July 23 shooting in which an Israeli guard at the Israeli Embassy in Jordan killed two Jordanians after one attacked him with a screwdriver. The guard was released by Jordan the next day, after a phone call between the king and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A few hours later, the metal detectors were dismantled. The guard's release, though in line with diplomatic protocol, has inflamed Jordanian public opinion, especially after the shooter was given a hero's welcome by Netanyahu. The king blasted the prime minister's actions as "provocative." Israeli authorities have since said they would investigate the embassy shootings, meeting a Jordanian demand.