‘Rage’ protests erupt after U.S. decision in Jerusalem
PALESTINIAN PROTESTERS CLASH WITH ISRAELI FORCES AFTER TRUMP’S EDICT
Thousands of Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli forces in east Jerusalem and the West Bank Thursday while demonstrators in the Gaza Strip burned U.S. flags and pictures of President Donald Trump in a show of rage 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 leader of the Hamas extremist group called on Palestinians to launch a new uprising against Israel.
“This Zionist policy supported by the U.S. cannot be confronted unless we ignite a new intifada,” said Ismail Haniyeh. “Jerusalem is being kidnapped and ripped from us.” Soon after the speech, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group backed by Iran, said he supported the call for a new Palestinian intifada.
Both Hezbollah and Hamas have considerable arsenals but neither group said they planned to turn them on Israel.
However, Israeli intelligence has said in the past that it believes both groups would like to incite a mass uprising by ordinary Palestinians.
Thousands of Palestinians and Israelis died in two previous uprisings.
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 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 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.
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 Mike Pence, the U.S. vice-president, during his visit to the region later this month when he is expected to visit Israel and make a stop in Bethlehem.
However, a White House official said Pence still plans to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and said it would be “counterproductive” to cancel.
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 individual attacks were possible.
Hamas, which seeks Israel’s destruction, still has cells in the West Bank and possesses a large arsenal of rockets.
While Trump insisted 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
An Israeli police officer scuffles with a Palestinian protester in Jerusalem’s Old City on Thursday. Israeli forces were bracing for the possibility of stronger violence on Friday.
Palestinian protesters burn an effigy of U.S. President Donald Trump in the West Bank city of Nablus on Thursday after his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. More violence was anticipated in the region Friday.