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US shift on Jerusalem sparks protests

Washington, Dec 7 (IANS)
Published on 8 Dec. 2017 12:02 AM IST
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US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital prompted a global diplomatic backlash and sparked protests in Palestinian territories on Thursday as fears grew of fresh bloodshed in the volatile Middle East.
Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli soldiers in Ramallah and other places in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Authority called for a general strike. In Gaza, the Hamas movement appealed for a mass uprising.
Palestinian shops in east Jerusalem, including the Old City, as well as in the West Bank were largely shut and schools were closed on Thursday.
At a checkpoint near Ramallah, Israeli forces fired dozens of rounds of tear gas and stun grenades at hundreds of protesters gathered to vent their anger over Trump’s announcement that has upset even Washington’s allies. 
Youths burned tires, pelted soldiers with rocks and burned American flags. Clashes also erupted in East Jerusalem and at the border fence between Israel and Gaza. The Palestinian Red Crescent said at least 43 people were wounded.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh declared Friday a “day of rage”. 
Israel deployed hundreds of extra troops in the West Bank amid rising tensions. US institutions in the region readied themselves for a possible violent fallout.
In a landmark speech in Washington on Wednesday, Trump reversed decades of US policy in defiance of warnings that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will derail the fragile Israeli-Palestinian peace process and spark further unrest.
Trump said he would tell the State Department to begin preparations to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem but that the US still supported a two-state solution to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But outraged Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas dubbed it “deplorable” and said Trump had disqualified the US from its traditional role as peace broker.
Demonstrations also broke out outside the US consulate in Istanbul and Amman. 
The decision was met with global dismay, drawing criticism from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia and more. Western allies of the US such as Britain, Germany, Canada and France refused to side with Washington. China and Russia too expressed displeasure. 
The UN Security Council will discuss the issue on Friday after eight of the 15 nations called for an emergency session. The Arab League will meet on Saturday. 
The Saudi Royal Court warned of serious consequences of such an “irresponsible and unwarranted step”. The United Arab Emirates expressed “deep concern” about the repercussions.
President Hassan Rouhani said Iran “will not tolerate a violation of Islamic sanctities. Muslims must stand united against this major plot”. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it would put the region in a “ring of fire”.
Kuwait and Qatar also came out against the US move. 
India declined to comment, saying its position on Palestine “is independent and consistent”.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called on Muslims worldwide to “make it clear that we strongly oppose” the US move. Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo too slammed the US decision.
The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, and according to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, its final status is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.
Jerusalem declaration ‘historic, courageous decision’: Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday termed as “historic” and a “courageous and just decision” the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by US President Donald Trump, saying that it will help “advance peace”.
He said the Jewish state would maintain status quo at the holy sites ensuring freedom of worship for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.
“This is a historic day. It’s been the capital of Israel for nearly 70 years. Jerusalem has been the focus of our hopes, our dreams, our prayers for three millennia. It has been the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years. It was here that our temples stood, our kings ruled, our prophets preached”, Netanyahu said in a statement.
Hailing Trump, he said it reflects his commitment to “an ancient but enduring truth”. “Yet today’s pronouncement by President Trump is such an occasion. We’re profoundly grateful to him for his courageous and just decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and to prepare for the opening of the US embassy here. This decision reflects the President’s commitment to an ancient but enduring truth, to fulfilling his promises and to advancing peace”, the Israeli prime minister said.
Describing the US’ decision as a “new and genuine milestone” in the history of the Holy city, Netanyahu said Jews from all over the world have always wanted to return to Jerusalem, “to touch its golden stones, and to walk in its hallowed streets”.
He insisted that the US announcement would help achieve “dream of peace”.
The status of Jerusalem, which is home to sites holy to the Muslims, Jews and Christians alike, is seen by many as the “thorniest issue” in resolving Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Addressing the concern of Muslims and Christians, Netanyahu said Israel would maintain status quo at the holy sites ensuring freedom of worship to all.
“I also want to make clear: there will be no change whatsoever to the status quo at the holy sites...Israel will always ensure freedom of worship for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike,” the Israeli Prime Minister said.

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