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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Palestinians warn of escalating protests over Jerusalem

At least 31 Palestinians hurt in Israeli army fire on Thursday as anger over US president's move sweeps West Bank and Gaza

Clashes erupted across the West Bank, in East Jerusalem and along the Gaza Strip's border fence with Israel on Thursday as Palestinians seethed over US president Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and intention of moving the US embassy there.

More than 31 Palestinians were reported wounded by live fire or rubber-coated metal bullets in the clashes with Israeli forces, a mere foretaste of what is expected after Friday prayers. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh called for a new intifada uprising to begin Friday.

"Tomorrow should be a day of rage and the start of a major attempt to rise up which I will name the intifada of the liberation of Jerusalem and the West Bank," he said in a televised speech. Just as Palestinian resistance had liberated Gaza from the Israeli army, Palestinians could free Jerusalem, he said.

"We have given instructions to all Hamas members and to all its wings to be fully ready for any new instructions or orders that may be given to confront this strategic danger that threatens Jerusalem and Palestine."

"United Jerusalem is Arab and Muslim and it is the capital of the state of Palestine, all Palestine," he said.

In the West Bank cities of Hebron and Al-Bireh, thousands of demonstrators rallied with chants of “Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Palestine”, witnesses said.

The UAE expressed its deep regret and condemnation at the US administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation statement yesterday said that such unilateral decisions were contrary to legitimate international resolutions and will not change the legal status of the holy city as being under occupation.

“[The decision] is a complete defiance of the historic and permanent rights of the Palestinian people in Jerusalem, guaranteed by the relevant international resolutions and recognised by the international community.”

Mr Trump's decision, which reversed seven decades of US policy, was seen by Palestinians as cementing Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem, which they cherish as the capital of their future state.

Israel occupied east Jerusalem, with its sites holy to Christians, Jews and Muslims, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and then annexed it in violation of international law. Jewish nationalists cite ancient Biblical ties to the area that they believe supercede Palestinian claims, and are mounting a settlement drive to, in their view, reclaim their ancient capital. They see Mr Trump's move and a historic endorsement of their view.

The White House said on Thursday it was not aware of any other country that planned to follow President Trump’s lead and recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“I‘m not aware of any countries that we anticipate that happening at any point soon,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters. “I‘m not saying that they aren‘t, but I‘m not aware of them.”

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Jawad Siyam, a grass-roots leader in the Silwan neighbourhood beneath Al Aqsa mosque, Islam's third-holiest site, said: "Trump is showing the ugly face of the USA, supporting the occupation and ignoring the rights of the Palestinians and Christians and Muslims in the city."

The US has warned Palestinians against cancelling talks with Vice-President Mike Pence, after Washington recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

It would be "counterproductive" to scrap talks between Mr Pence and Palestinian President, the US said.

A senior Palestinian official warned Mr Pence would not be welcome.

Among the focal points of clashes were Tulkarem and Qalqilya in the northern West Bank, Al Bireh in its central sector, and Bethlehem in the south. According to the Gaza ministry of health, seven Palestinians were wounded, one of them seriously in clashes east of Khan Younis. In Jerusalem, three Palestinians were arrested as security forces broke up a demonstration near Damascus Gate.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas meanwhile held talks in Amman with Jordan's King Abdullah to co-ordinate a response to the American move. The leaders said Mr Trump's decision was violation of international law and warned that tampering with the status of Jerusalem would only create more tension and violence.

Meanwhile, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that other countries have been in touch with Israel about moving their embassies to Jerusalem. "Trump has tied himself eternally to the history of our capital. His name will be held aloft withthose of others who made the history of Jerusalem," he said.

The Israeli tourism minister, Yariv Levin, said that Mr Trump had given Israel the green light for rejecting a two-state solution by making it conditional in his announcement on the two sides approving of it. "This means that as long as Israel does not want this solution, it won't come about," he said.

Mr Siyam predicted that the protests would keep intensifying in the days ahead. Asked what he expected for Friday, he replied: "The Palestinians will go out in peaceful protests but they will turn into clashes because the Israelis won't allow any protests. Day by day there will be more and more.

"If the political leaders keep up this level of speech it will continue and they won't be able to control things like during the second intifada. I think this will go out of control."

He said Mr Trump's move was devastating. "A hundred years after the Balfour Declaration came the Trump declaration, which is very similar."

Talal Awkal, a Gaza City-based columnist for Al Ayyam newspaper, also predicted sustained unrest, recalling how the installation of metal detectors by Israel at entrances to Al Aqsa mosque had fuelled protests in July.

"We have to remember that when Israel installed the metal detectors there was a kind of intifada. Now we are talking about all of Jerusalem, so what do you expect? The Palestinians can no more be calm waiting for solutions from the US and Israel."

Awkal said he expected "a popular intifada in which people go into the streets and resist settlers and the army across the West Bank and on the borders of the Gaza Strip. There will be a lot of clashes but without [Palestinian] armaments."

In his speech in Washington on Wednesday, Mr Trump said he had decided to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital and would begin the process of moving the US embassy to the city from Tel Aviv. That night, the Palestinian ministry for endowments and religious affairs turned off the lights of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City in protest against the announcement, while Christian Palestinians in the West Bank city of Bethlehem switched off the lights on the Christmas tree outside the Church of the Nativity.

The Palestinian ministry for endowments and religious affairs turned off the lights of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City on December 6, 2017 in protest against US president Donald Trump's recognition of the city as Israel's capital. Ahmad Gharabli / AFP
The Palestinian ministry for endowments and religious affairs turned off the lights of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City on December 6, 2017 in protest against US president Donald Trump's recognition of the city as Israel's capital. Ahmad Gharabli / AFP
Palestinians stand in front of a Christmas tree near the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on December 6, 2017. Christian Palestinians turned off the tree's lights in protest against US president Donald Trump's declaration recognising Jerusalem as the capital of the Israel. Abed Al Hashlamoun / EPA
Palestinians stand in front of a Christmas tree near the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on December 6, 2017. Christian Palestinians turned off the tree's lights in protest against US president Donald Trump's declaration recognising Jerusalem as the capital of the Israel. Abed Al Hashlamoun / EPA

The leader of Lebanon's Iran-backed Hizbollah movement, Hassan Nasrallah, supported calls for a Palestinian intifada but did not threaten military action by his group over what he called "undisguised American aggression". Instead, he called for protests on the streets, on social media and at diplomatic levels by Arab and Muslim nations to force Mr Trump to reverse his decision, Associated Press reported.

The US move also provoked demonstrations in cities across Pakistan. Associated Press said hundreds of Islamists staged anti-US rallies in the capital, Islamabad, and in Karachi, Peshawar, and Multan, although no violence was reported.

The Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabab militant group in Somalia, which has been increasingly targeted by US air strikes, said Mr Trump's decision was "evidence of an escalation in its aggression against Islam and Muslims", Associated Press reported, quoting a statement from the group's news agency.

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