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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

King Salman and Abbas discuss Jerusalem in Riyadh

It came as the Catholic church's top official in Jerusalem criticised the US's recent recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, saying the move had damaged Christmas celebrations and led to hundreds of people cancelling trips to the holy city

Saudi King Salman, right, receives Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Riyadh on December 20, 2017. Al Ekhbariya via AP
Saudi King Salman, right, receives Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Riyadh on December 20, 2017. Al Ekhbariya via AP

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas met with King Salman in Riyadh on Wednesday, with the Saudi king reiterating his country's position that the Palestinians have the right to an independent state with East Jerusalem as their capital, the official Saudi Press Agency said.

It comes after US president Donald Trump earlier this month recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, sparking widespread condemnation from both Middle Eastern leaders and the international community.

Mr Abbas's meeting with King Salman came as the Catholic church's top official in Jerusalem criticised the US move, saying it had damaged Christmas celebrations and led to hundreds of people cancelling trips to the holy city.

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, said "dozens" of groups had pulled out of planned visits to the city after being scared off by the announcement and subsequent clashes.

He added that the heads of Christian churches in Jerusalem would find it difficult to accept an official request by US vice president Mike Pence to visit the city's holy Christian sites in January, calling for him to "listen more" to other Christians.

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"Of course this created a tension around Jerusalem and this diverted attention from Christmas," the archbishop said of Mr Trump's December 6 decision.

"After this there are some tensions in Jerusalem, Bethlehem also. This scared many people, so we've had less people than expected."

He stressed, however, that they would continue with planned Christmas celebrations.

Meanwhile, Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will travel to New York with his Palestinian counterpart, Riyad Al Maliki, for Thursday’s UN General Assembly meeting on Jerusalem to try to stop America making what he said was “an unacceptable” move.

"We want America to turn back from this wrong and unacceptable decision," Mr Cavusoglu said on Wednesday, referring to the US's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. "God willing we will push through the General Assembly a resolution in favour of Palestine and Jerusalem.

"From now on we will be more active in defending the rights of Palestinians. We will work harder for the international recognition of an independent Palestinian state.”

Mr Cavusoglu will meet with Mr Al Maliki in Istanbul, from where they will head to the US. The 193-member UN General Assembly will hold an emergency session at the request of Muslim and Arab states.

The assembly is expected to vote on a draft resolution calling for the US to withdraw its decision on Jerusalem’s status. Although the vote is non-binding, it carries political weight.

The US had already vetoed the draft in the 15-member UN Security Council on Monday. All other 14 members voted in favour of the draft, a move US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley called “an insult” and “won’t be forgotten”.

On Tuesday, Ms Haley said that she will report back to Mr Trump with the names of those who support the draft resolution.

"The president will be watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on those countries who voted against us," said a letter from Ms Haley seen by AFP.

"We will take note of each and every vote on this issue," she wrote to several UN ambassadors.

On Twitter, Ms Haley said that "the US will be taking names" during the vote on Thursday.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the UN, said that he expected “overwhelming support”, adding that Jerusalem is an issue “to be resolved through negotiations” between Israel and the Palestinians.

"The General Assembly will say, without the fear of the veto, that the international community is refusing to accept the unilateral position of the United States," he said.

No country has veto powers in the General Assembly, contrary to the council where the US, along with Britain, China, France and Russia, can block any resolution.

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In a move of support for the Palestinian people, Indonesia said on Wednesday it will allow tariff-free imports and give direct market access to some Palestinian goods beginning in the new year.

Currently, Palestinian goods come to Indonesia through Jordan, but Indonesia's trade minister Enggartiasto Lukita said that some goods will starting January 1 be shipped directly to his country.

He added that Indonesia had stated its support for the Palestinians to become a member of the World Trade Organisation.

"We're opening market access for dates and olive oil. This is as requested by Palestine," he said. "We're also asking them for a list of products they want to export and they need to import."

Indonesia, which has the world's largest Muslim population, has long been a supporter of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel seized control of the eastern part of the city in the 1967 Middle East war and sees all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital. The Palestinians view the east as the capital of their future state.

Several UN resolutions call on Israel to withdraw from territory seized during the 1967 war.

* With reporting by Agence France-Presse