JERUSALEM/AMMAN (Reuters) – Israel said on Friday it would conduct a preliminary investigation into the July 23 shooting to death of two Jordanians by a guard at its Amman embassy who the kingdom says should face criminal prosecution.
Citing the guard’s diplomatic immunity, Israel repatriated him and other embassy staff after the incident, which stirred up anger in Jordan, where the 1994 peace deal between the countries is unpopular and pro-Palestinian sentiment widespread.
Israel says the guard fired in self-defense after being stabbed by screwdriver-wielding Jordanian workman, who was killed along with a Jordanian bystander hit by stray gunfire.
Jordanian authorities initially said there had been an altercation before the shooting, but later described the incident as a double homicide and demanded Israel put the guard on trial.
Israel’s attorney-general on Friday ordered police to “look into” the shootings, the justice ministry said in a statement, using terminology signifying a preliminary probe that could be upgraded into a criminal investigation if warranted.
“Further along, as findings arise, the option will be considered of asking the Jordanian authorities … to provide additional material to the police,” the ministry said.
Jordan reacted positively to the Israeli moves but said it expected further “tangible judicial” moves to follow.
“We think this is step in the right direction. We expect a complete follow up on the legal procedure in accordance to international law relevant to these cases. Justice must be served,” Mohammad al Momani, government spokesman told Reuters.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under pressure at home for his handling of a surge in Palestinian unrest around a contested Jerusalem holy site, gave the guard a hero’s welcome. That infuriated Amman, prompting U.S. crisis mediation.
Israel has tried to keep the guard’s identity under wraps, saying he could be targeted for reprisals. But a Jordanian newspaper published his diplomatic accreditation, including his name and photograph.
Israeli officials have said that, as well as the probe into the shootings, they are considering offering compensation to the family of the slain Jordanian bystander – the owner of a property rented out to the embassy.
Writing by Dan Williams; Additional reporting by Suleiman al Khalidi; Editing by Richard Balmforth