Jordan says Israel rejects 'racist' comments by minister


AMMAN, March 21 (Reuters) - Jordan's foreign minister on Tuesday decried an ultra-nationalist Israeli cabinet minister's comments as "racist" after the latter spoke from a podium adorned with a map depicting Israel as including all of Jordan and the Palestinian territories.

An official source told Reuters on Tuesday that Amman had received assurances from Israel that the statements by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich did not represent Israel's position.

Smotrich, who heads a religious-nationalist party in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-right coalition, said on Sunday there was "no such thing as a Palestinian people," or Palestinian history or culture.

Amman late on Monday summoned the Israeli ambassador in Jordan over the map and said Smotrich's move 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 on Tuesday.

The official source said Israel's national security advisor had called Safadi to assure him that Israel respected his country's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Safadi said his government could adopt further steps if Israel repeated such provocations, but did not elaborate.

"Israel has to stop the measures that are leading to a deterioration on the ground and fueling the violence," he said.

In a statement on Tuesday, the United Arab Emirates also condemned the map and Smotrich's comments about Palestinians.

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 recognizes the territorial integrity of the Hashemite Kingdom."

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, 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.

Smotrich spoke as Israeli and Palestinian officials met in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for de-escalation talks.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi Editing by Bernadette Baum

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.