Pales­tini­ans protest Trump move, more un­rest feared

El Dorado News-Times - - National -

JERUSALEM (AP) — Thou­sands of Pales­tinian pro­test­ers clashed with Is­raeli forces in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, demon­stra­tors in the Gaza Strip burned U.S. flags and pic­tures of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, and a top Pales­tinian of­fi­cial said Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence would not be wel­come in the West Bank, in a show of rage Thurs­day over the Amer­i­can de­ci­sion to rec­og­nize Jerusalem as Is­rael's cap­i­tal.

Is­raeli forces were brac­ing for the pos­si­bil­ity of even stronger vi­o­lence on Fri­day, when tens of thou­sands of Pales­tini­ans at­tend weekly prayers at Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque, the city's most sa­cred Is­lamic site. In Gaza, the supreme leader of the Ha­mas mil­i­tant group called on Pales­tini­ans to launch a new up­ris­ing against Is­rael.

The Pales­tini­ans were blind­sided by Trump's move to de­part from decades of U.S. pol­icy on Jerusalem and up­end long­stand­ing in­ter­na­tional as­sur­ances that the fate of the city would be de­ter­mined in ne­go­ti­a­tions.

The Pales­tini­ans seek east Jerusalem, cap­tured by Is­rael in 1967, as their cap­i­tal. Is­rael claims the en­tire city, in­clud­ing east Jerusalem, home to sen­si­tive Jewish, Mus­lim and Chris­tian holy sites, as its un­di­vided cap­i­tal. The op­pos­ing claims lie at the heart of the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict and have of­ten spilled over into deadly vi­o­lence.

The Pales­tini­ans de­clared three "days of rage," shut­ter­ing schools and busi­nesses, and stag­ing an­gry demon­stra­tions at Da­m­as­cus Gate, one of the en­trances to Jerusalem's Old City, and cities across the West Bank and Gaza.

"We are here. We be­lieve in our rights and one day it (will) be­come Jerusalem, the cap­i­tal for the Pales­tinian peo­ple," de­clared Ra­nia Hatem, a pro­tester out­side the Old City.

The Is­raeli mil­i­tary re­ported demon­stra­tions in some 30 lo­ca­tions across the West Bank on Thurs­day, say­ing Pales­tini­ans had hurled stones and fire­bombs at troops. A mil­i­tary of­fi­cial, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity un­der briefing guide­lines, said troops were in­structed to use min­i­mal force and avoid live fire to avoid es­ca­lat­ing ten­sions.

In the West Bank, troops fired wa­ter can­nons and tear gas to dis­perse a crowd in Beth­le­hem, the bib­li­cal town of Je­sus' birth, just weeks be­fore thou­sands of for­eign tourists are ex­pected to visit for Christ­mas cel­e­bra­tions. In Ra­mal­lah, the seat of the Pales­tinian gov­ern­ment, pro­test­ers set tires on fire, send­ing thick plumes of black smoke over the city.

Pales­tinian of­fi­cials said dozens of pro­test­ers were slightly wounded, most from tear gas in­hala­tion. Spon­ta­neous protests also took place in Gaza, with an­gry youths burn­ing tires, Amer­i­can and Is­raeli flags and Trump posters.

A se­nior Pales­tinian of­fi­cial said the Pales­tini­ans would not meet with Pence dur­ing his visit to the re­gion later this month when Pence is ex­pected to visit Is­rael and make a stop in the Pales­tinian city of Beth­le­hem. "We will not re­ceive him in the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries," said the of­fi­cial, Jib­ril Ra­joub.

How­ever, a White House of­fi­cial said Pence still plans to meet with Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas as sched­uled and said it would be "coun­ter­pro­duc­tive" to can­cel. The of­fi­cial spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss up­com­ing plans.

Is­raeli se­cu­rity of­fi­cials were pre­par­ing for more un­rest on Fri­day. In a pre-emp­tive move, the mil­i­tary said it would de­ploy sev­eral bat­tal­ions to the West Bank, while other troops were put on alert.

Is­raeli of­fi­cials said Fri­day prayers at the Al Aqsa Mosque, along with the ex­pected un­rest in the West Bank, would set the tone for the com­ing days.

Pales­tinian of­fi­cials in the West Bank said they had no in­ter­est in bloody vi­o­lence but warned that in­di­vid­ual at­tacks were pos­si­ble.

Is­raeli po­lice were con­sid­er­ing whether to im­pose age re­stric­tions on wor­ship­pers at Fri­day's prayers, but as of Thurs­day even­ing, had made no changes.

In Gaza, Is­mail Haniyeh, the Ha­mas supreme leader, called on Pales­tini­ans to launch a new up­ris­ing. "We want the up­ris­ing to last and con­tinue to let Trump and the oc­cu­pa­tion re­gret this de­ci­sion," he said.

Ha­mas, which seeks Is­rael's de­struc­tion, killed hun­dreds of Is­raelis in sui­cide bomb­ings and other at­tacks dur­ing the sec­ond Pales­tinian up­ris­ing in the early 2000s. How­ever, the Is­lamic mil­i­tant group, which seized con­trol of Gaza in 2007, has been weak­ened by a decade-long Is­raeli block­ade and three painful wars with Is­rael.

Nonethe­less, it still has cells in the West Bank and pos­sesses a large arse­nal of rock­ets in its Gaza strong­hold. Late Thurs­day, Is­raeli tanks and air­craft at­tacked two mil­i­tary posts in Gaza, fol­low­ing a se­ries of rocket at­tacks, in­clud­ing one that landed in south­ern Is­rael. There were no re­ports of ca­su­al­ties on ei­ther side.

Trump's de­ci­sion had no im­me­di­ate im­pact on daily life in Jerusalem, which al­ready is the seat of Is­rael's gov­ern­ment.

While Trump in­sisted that the move was meant to ac­knowl­edge the cur­rent re­al­ity, and not pre­judge ne­go­ti­a­tions on Jerusalem's sta­tus, it car­ried deep sym­bolic mean­ing and was seen by the Pales­tini­ans as sid­ing with Is­rael.

And even if Trump's move can­not sin­gle­hand­edly de­ter­mine Jerusalem's sta­tus, poli­cies of the U.S., the lead me­di­a­tor for over two decades of un­suc­cess­ful peace talks, carry spe­cial weight.

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu said Trump "bound him­self for­ever" to the his­tory of Jerusalem and main­tained other coun­tries were al­ready in­ter­ested in fol­low­ing suit.

Ab­bas sug­gested that Trump's move dis­qual­i­fied the United States from con­tin­u­ing as an ex­clu­sive bro­ker. He met with his clos­est Arab ally, Jor­dan's King Ab­dul­lah II, in Am­man on Thurs­day, say­ing that he was ral­ly­ing in­ter­na­tional op­po­si­tion to Trump's move, which he called an "un­ac­cept­able crime."

The king could play an im­por­tant role. He is one of Wash­ing­ton's most

de­pend­able part­ners in the bat­tle against Is­lamic ex­trem­ism in the re­gion, and his coun­try is the cus­to­dian of Mus­lim holy sites in Jerusalem, mak­ing him an in­flu­en­tial player.

Ab­bas said he was also speak­ing to coun­tries in Europe and Africa. In­ter­na­tional op­po­si­tion has been wide­spread, in­clud­ing Amer­ica's clos­est al­lies in Europe. "For­tu­nately, there was a pos­i­tive re­sponse from all the coun­tries in the world," Ab­bas said.

On Thurs­day, the Pales­tini­ans asked the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to take ur­gent ac­tion and de­mand that Trump's de­ci­sion be re­scinded. The coun­cil sched­uled an emergency meet­ing on Fri­day.

Mean­while, anger at the U.S. rip­pled across the Arab world.

Saudi Ara­bia con­demned Trump's de­ci­sion in a rare pub­lic re­buke by the U.S. ally. The re­gional pow­er­house, which could help the White House push through a Mid­dle East set­tle­ment, said it

had warned against the step and "con­tin­ues to ex­press its deep re­gret at the U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion's de­ci­sion," call­ing it "un­jus­ti­fied and ir­re­spon­si­ble."

The Arab League, which rep­re­sents most states in the Mid­dle East and North Africa, was to meet Satur­day. Next week, Turkey will host a gath­er­ing of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Is­lamic Co­op­er­a­tion, which has 57 Arab and Mus­lim mem­ber states.

De­spite the ver­bal sup­port, Pales­tinian of­fi­cials are con­cerned the Arabs will not pro­vide the sus­tained back­ing Ab­bas needs. While quick to con­demn Trump's de­ci­sion, Arab lead­ers have not threat­ened to re­duce ties or take any other ac­tion against the U.S. or Is­rael.

There were also feel­ings of res­ig­na­tion from many in the re­gion who said they have long given up on their lead­ers stand­ing up to ei­ther Is­rael or the United States.

Pre­oc­cu­pied with their

own tribu­la­tions, there were barely any protests in cap­i­tals like Beirut, Bagh­dad or Da­m­as­cus.

"Peo­ple are tired, ex­hausted. Per­son­ally I feel that we are doomed any­way and noth­ing we do makes a dif­fer­ence," said Ghinwa Barakat, a 43-year-old shop­per in Beirut. "Who's go­ing to sup­port the Pales­tini­ans? Syria is de­stroyed, Iraq is de­stroyed. The Gulf coun­tries are fight­ing each other and com­pet­ing over who will nor­mal­ize re­la­tions with Is­rael first. So, who?"

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