New protests flare over Trump’s Jerusalem declaration

December 11, 2017 12:29 am
Lebanese security forces fire tear gas to disperse protestors as a fire burns in a dumpster during a demonstration outside the US embassy in Awkar, on the outskirts of the Lebanese capital Beirut, on December 10, 2017 © AFP / ANWAR AMRO

, Jerusalem, ZZZ, Dec 9 – New protests flared in the Middle East and elsewhere Sunday over US President Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move that has drawn global condemnation and sparked days of unrest in the Palestinian territories.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Palestinians needed to come to terms with Jerusalem’s long Jewish history.

“It’s always been our capital,” he said at a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.

“I think the sooner the Palestinians come to grips with this reality, the sooner we’ll move towards peace.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has repeatedly warned of the consequences of Trump’s move, lashed out Sunday by calling Israel a “terrorist state” that “kills children”.

Netanyahu hit back, calling Erdogan a leader who “bombs Kurdish villagers” and “helps terrorists”.

Trump’s announcement on Wednesday sparked days of protests and clashes in the Palestinian territories. Four Palestinians were killed either in clashes or by Israeli air strikes in retaliation for rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

On Sunday, a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli security guard at Jerusalem’s central bus station, seriously wounding him. The assailant was arrested.

Tens of thousands of people have protested in Muslim and Arab countries, including Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia.

On Sunday, further protests were held in countries including Lebanon, Indonesia, Egypt and Morocco as well as in the Palestinian territories.

Lebanese security forces fired tear gas and water cannons at several hundred demonstrators near the American embassy.

Map of Jerusalem © AFP / Gillian HANDYSIDE

Tens of thousands also rallied in Morocco’s capital Rabat.

– Protests in Cairo, Jakarta –

In Jakarta, some 5,000 Indonesians protested in solidarity with the Palestinians, gathering outside the US embassy in the world’s most-populous Muslim country.

Students and professors in Cairo demonstrated at the prestigious Al-Azhar University, a spokesman said, and dozens of students protested at two other Cairo universities.

Palestinian protests on Sunday were smaller than in previous days.

Protests and clashes erupted in Al-Arroub refugee camp in the south of the occupied West Bank, leaving one Palestinian wounded by rubber bullets, the Palestinian health ministry said.

Israeli police disperse Palestinian protesters on December 9, 2017, in East Jerusalem © AFP / Ahmad GHARABLI

Separately, the Israeli military said it destroyed a Hamas tunnel from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory — an incident unrelated to the recent unrest, but which threatened to further increase tensions.

Such tunnels have been used in the past to carry out attacks.

Trump’s declaration prompted near universal condemnation and diplomatic fallout, with warnings that it risks setting off a new round of violence in the turbulent Middle East.

US Vice President Mike Pence is due in the region later this month, but Palestinian officials say president Mahmud Abbas will refuse to meet him.

A US official said Sunday such a snub is tantamount to “walking away” from a chance to talk about peace in the Middle East.

“It’s unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority is walking away again from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region,” Jarrod Agen, Pence’s deputy chief of staff, said in a statement.

Abbas was to meet Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo Monday for consultations “to discuss developments related to the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital”, said Bassam Radi, a spokesman for the Egyptian presidency.

Arab League foreign ministers on Saturday called on Washington to rescind the decision.

Despite the outrage, Trump’s UN Ambassador Nikki Haley insisted Sunday the Jerusalem declaration would “move the ball forward” on peace efforts.

However, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told CNN it might “compromise” the US drive for an Israeli-Palestinian accord.

– Netanyahu in Europe –

Netanyahu’s Europe trip was long planned, but came after both Macron and EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini criticised Trump’s decision.

There have also been tensions between Netanyahu and EU officials over Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.

Macron during their talks Sunday called on Netanyahu to freeze settlement building and to show “courage” to help restart peace efforts.

At their press conference, Netanyahu called the White House’s bid to restart peace efforts with the Palestinians a “serious effort”.

Netanyahu was due in Brussels for talks with EU foreign ministers on Monday in what would be the first of their kind with an Israeli premier in 22 years.

Women react as an Israeli mounted policeman disperses Palestinian protesters on December 9, 2017, in East Jerusalem © AFP / Ahmad GHARABLI

Trump’s decision upended decades of US diplomacy and broke with international consensus.

It drew criticism from every other UN Security Council member at an emergency meeting on Friday.

Clashes in the West Bank and along the fence dividing the Gaza Strip from Israel have seen Palestinians burning tyres while hurling stones and firebombs at Israeli troops, who responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds.

Retaliatory air strikes on Gaza in response to rockets killed two Hamas militants on Saturday, while two other Palestinians died in clashes near the border fence the day before.

– US isolated –

Palestinian health officials say more than 1,100 people were wounded by tear gas, rubber bullets, live fire and other means between Thursday and Saturday.

There have been fears of a much larger escalation of violence after Hamas leader Ismail Haniya called for a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

In Rome, Pope Francis called Sunday for “wisdom and prudence”, asking world leaders “to avert a new spiral of violence”.

Trump said his defiant move — making good on a 2016 presidential campaign pledge — marked the start of a “new approach” to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But Washington has found itself isolated on the global stage.

Five European countries on the Security Council insisted the new US policy was inconsistent with past resolutions.

The decision was further complicating domestic Palestinian politics, particularly between Abbas’s Fatah and the Islamist Hamas, now at a key stage in a fragile reconciliation process after a decade of bitter enmity.

Hamas, which violently seized Gaza from Fatah in 2007, was due to formally hand back power to the Palestinian Authority on Sunday, but Fatah’s chief negotiator said “obstacles” remained.



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