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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 August 2018

Pope defends Jerusalem's 'status quo' ahead of Trump's announcement

The city’s status has been a contentious issue in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and a roadblock in peace talks

A handout picture provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano shows Pope Francis (L) shaking hands with Mahmoud Al Habbash (R), the Palestinian supreme judge and adviser of president Mahmoud Abbas on Religious and Islamic Affairs, at the Vatican on December 6, 2017. EPA
A handout picture provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano shows Pope Francis (L) shaking hands with Mahmoud Al Habbash (R), the Palestinian supreme judge and adviser of president Mahmoud Abbas on Religious and Islamic Affairs, at the Vatican on December 6, 2017. EPA

Pope Francis defended on Wednesday Jerusalem’s “status quo”, just hours ahead US president Donald Trump’s expected announcement recognising the disputed city as the capital of Israel.

"I cannot silence my deep concern over the situation that has emerged in recent days,” said the pope in his weekly address.

“At the same time, I appeal strongly for all to respect the city's status quo, in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions.

“Jerusalem is a unique city, sacred for Jews, Christians and Muslims.”

Pope Francis said that the city holds a “special vocation for peace”, adding: "I pray to God that this identity is preserved and reinforced, for the sake of the Holy Land, the Middle East and the whole world, and that wisdom and prudence prevail.”

The pontiff also said that maintaining the status quo was important "in order to avoid adding new elements of tension to an already volatile world that is wracked by so many cruel conflicts".

French president Emmanuel Macron expressed his concern during a phone call with his US counterpart on Monday, saying Jerusalem’s status must be decided “within the framework of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians”.

The city’s status has been a contentious issue in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and a roadblock in peace talks. Israel believes it should be its capital and all embassies should be based there, while the Palestinians want the city to be the capital of an independent Palestinian state.

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British prime minister Theresa May said that she would speak to Mr Trump before his announcement, saying: "Our position has not changed. The status of Jerusalem should be determined as a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians and Jerusalem should be a shared capital.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Boris Johnson, British foreign secretary said that reports on the US decision were “heard with concern”.

Meanwhile, Germany’s main opposition party, the Social Democrats (SPD) said Mr Trump’s decision would undermine international stability and will set back the peace process in the Middle East. Martin Schulz, SPD leader, reiterated that he supported a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians.

Both France and Germany warned their citizens in Israel and the Palestinian territories to avoid large crowds in East Jerusalem, saying that clashes could erupt in the area.

China and Russia also expressed their disapproval of a US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying it would aggravate regional hostilities.

"We are concerned about the possible escalation of tensions," China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

"All relevant parties should bear regional peace and tranquillity in mind, be cautious in words and deeds, avoid impacting the foundation for the settlement of the issue of Palestine, and avoid causing new confrontation in the region."

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Richard Haass, president of the Council of Foreign Relations, said in a tweet on Monday: "The risk of recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital is not that it will derail the peace process as there is no peace process [with] any real prospects.

"The risk is that it will increase tensions [and] lead to violence at a time there is more than enough tension [and] violence in the world."

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for a summit of the Pan-Islamic body in Istanbul on December 13 to discuss the US decision.

“In the face of developments that arouse sensitivity over the status of Jerusalem, Mr President is calling a leaders' summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in order to display joint action among Islamic countries," Mr Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told reporters in Ankara. Turkey currently holds the chairmanship of the OIC.

It was still unclear on Wednesday whether the Muslim leaders would come to the meeting, but all of Washington’s allies in the Middle East — including Saudi Arabia and the UAE — warned Mr Trump against the dangerous repercussions of his decision.

And in Tehran, Iranian president Hassan Rpuhani said, "Iran will not tolerate a violation of Islamic sanctities.Muslims must stand united against this major plot."

Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in 1967, after which it annexed it. The international community does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over the entire city, which is considered holy to Muslims, Christians and Jews.

There are no foreign embassies in the disputed city.

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