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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Lebanon forces beat protesters, fire tear gas and water cannon outside US embassy

Demonstrators burnt tyres, American and Israeli flags and an effigy of US president Donald Trump in protest against his decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel

Police in Lebanon beat demonstrators and fired tear gas and water cannon as more than 1,000 people protested near the US embassy against president Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Protesters burnt tyres, American and Israeli flags and an effigy of Mr Trump in front of a barricade that had been erected by police about a kilometre away from the US embassy itself. The embassy was relocated from downtown Beirut to a well-fortified compound on a hill outside the city after the building was targeted in a 1983 bomb attack that killed 63 people.

Sunday's demonstration began at around 9am with clashes breaking out soon after as demonstrators attempted to remove the police barrier — though the situation later calmed down. At times the protest took on the atmosphere of a party, with the demonstrators — who included young children — singing and chanting.

A few hours later, however, the demonstration turned violent again as most of those in attendance began to disperse at around 1pm.

It was unclear how many injuries there were among the demonstrators, or how many arrests had been made by police. At least one young man appeared to have been shot by a rubber bullet.

"Police were hitting protesters with batons,” said Tarek Ghuneim, a young man from Nahr Al Bared, a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon.

Other demonstrators said they saw police beating protesters who had already been subdued and were on the ground, receiving care from the Lebanese Red Cross. The Beirut-based English language newspaper The Daily Star reported that police had attacked one of their reporters as she filmed the scene with her phone.

There are more than 400,000 Palestinian refugees registered with the United Nations in Lebanon, many living in the country’s 12 official “camps”, which are in reality cities made up largely of concrete apartment blocks.

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“There will be more protests,” Mr Ghuneim predicted.

A few hundred people had travelled by bus from Nahr Al Bared, including Ahmed Dawood, an official with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

“Today we are struggling against Trump’s decision,” Mr Dawood said. “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine. Put the capital of Israel in New York.”

“We support a new intifada,” Mr Dawood said, referring to previous Palestinian uprisings against Israel, the last of which took place between 2000 and 2005. “No US embassies will be safe.”

The demonstrators included members of Palestinian parties as well as Lebanese Islamists and leftists.

“Even groups with different political views stand together on Palestine,” said Noor Bachir, a member of the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party, which helped organise the demonstration and advocates for a unified “greater Syria” that includes Lebanon and Palestine.

Lebanese and regional leaders have widely condemned Mr Trump’s decision.

Israel occupied southern Lebanon for 22 years before withdrawing in 2000, but the two countries remain technically at war.

A demonstration organised by Hizbollah was planned for Monday in Beirut’s southern suburbs, where the group has widespread support. It is likely to be the largest in Lebanon since Mr Trump’s announcement.

In 2006, Israel fought a war against Hizbollah in Lebanon that killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 120 Israelis, most of them soldiers.

US officials said Mr Trump’s decision on Wednesday last week to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem will take at least two years to be implemented.

The move breaks with decades of US foreign policy had previously stipulated, along with most of the rest of the world’s governments and two United Nations resolutions, that control of Jerusalem should be decided as part of negotiations between Palestinians and the Israeli government.

* Additional reporting by AFP

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