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Mass Protests Rock Jordan, Key US Ally in Mideast

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Furious protests over the bombing of a Gaza hospital continued Thursday on the streets of Jordan, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, which also has a large population of Palestinian descent. Analysts say a summit in Jordan between U.S. President Joe Biden and Arab leaders, now canceled, could have helped further cement a humanitarian corridor for Gaza.

Curtis Ryan is a Middle East specialist at Appalachian State University in the U.S. He told VOA that three days of public mourning in Jordan announced after the blast at the Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza that killed hundreds and the ensuing large-scale protests in Jordan made holding a summit with U.S. President Joe Biden difficult.

“It’s really unfortunate that this summit isn’t happening because there is such an urgency since this would have brought together Egypt, Jordan, the United States, and the Palestinian Authority not just for the humanitarian corridor, but the message that Biden would have gotten from the other three parties and especially from the Jordanian side would have been the words: cease fire. They were also concerned about the scale of the protests,” he said.

Jordanian riot police pushed back thousands of protesters Wednesday near the Israeli Embassy in the capital, Amman, where several police were injured in clashes with those setting nearby property on fire. “No Zionist embassy on Arab land,” they shouted. Mass protests by angry Jordanians continue throughout the country.

Protesters scuffle with Jordanian police near the Israeli Embassy in Amman, Jordan, Oct. 18, 2023, as they demonstrate against a strike on a hospital in the Gaza Strip.

Protesters scuffle with Jordanian police near the Israeli Embassy in Amman, Jordan, Oct. 18, 2023, as they demonstrate against a strike on a hospital in the Gaza Strip.

Ryan predicts an expected Israeli ground assault in Gaza will fuel more protests.

“Everybody cares about the Palestinian issue. It’s the most long-standing mobilizing issue in Jordanian politics, unlike any other issue. What’s been happening on the ground to Palestinian civilians, everybody is worked up about it. That’s why we are seeing protests on such a big scale. It’s going to be way worse if the [Israeli] ground invasion actually happens,” he said.

Ryan and other analysts say even without the hospital blast, for which both Israel and Palestinian militants have denied responsibility, Jordanians are deeply angered by the treatment of Palestinians by Israel’s right-wing government and Jewish settlers, as well as by Israel’s extensive bombing in Gaza.

Palestinians check the site of the explosion at Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City, Oct. 18, 2023.

Palestinians check the site of the explosion at Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City, Oct. 18, 2023.

Bruce Riedel, emeritus senior fellow at Washington’s Brookings Institution, told VOA that Jordan’s 1994 peace treaty with Israel is unpopular and while some of the kingdom’s political parties have called for severing ties, King Abdullah has rebuffed those calls and has persisted in urging and working for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

“But this crisis is now becoming unprecedented in its scope and intensity that will be difficult for him to not listen to the calls for a change in Jordan’s status with Israel. The problem, the king understands well, is that if he changes status with Israel, it could affect the bilateral relations with the Americans. American aid to Jordan, which has to be approved by the Congress and is critical to the Jordanian economy critical to maintaining stability in the country,” he said.

A handout picture released by the Jordanian Royal Palace shows Jordan's King Abdullah II (L) received by Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo, Oct. 19, 2023.

A handout picture released by the Jordanian Royal Palace shows Jordan’s King Abdullah II (L) received by Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo, Oct. 19, 2023.

Analysts see Jordan as a key U.S. military ally fighting against Islamist militant extremists and a stabilizing force in the turbulent region. Riedel expressed concerns about what the future holds for Gaza.

“Who’s going govern Gaza when the war is over? Israel says it can’t be Hamas; then who would it be? It’s certainly not going to be the Palestinian Authority,” he said. “Egypt doesn’t want to take over Gaza. We have a real conundrum coming up here. Who is going to provide law and order and respect for the rule of law and human rights in Gaza when this war comes to an end?”

With so many players involved and so much at stake for each of them, analysts have expressed concerns that the Israel-Hamas conflict has the possibility of widening in the Middle East.

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