Palestinian president to shun Pence over Jerusalem move
RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories – Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas will refuse to meet US Vice President Mike Pence later this month following Washington’s controversial policy shift on Jerusalem, an Abbas aide said on Saturday, as protests gripped the Palestinian territories for a third straight day.
Retaliatory Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip killed two Hamas militants before dawn, as unrest simmered over President Donald Trump’s controversial declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
A total of four people have now been killed and dozens wounded since Trump announced the move, which drew criticism from every other member of the UN Security Council at an emergency meeting on Friday.
“There will be no meeting with the vice president of America in Palestine,” Abbas’s diplomatic adviser Majdi al-Khaldi told AFP.
“The United States has crossed all the red lines with the Jerusalem decision,” he added.
There were fresh clashes on Saturday as Palestinian protesters in the occupied West Bank hurled stones at Israeli troops, who responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds.
In the Gaza Strip, mourners vented their anger at the funerals of two people killed by Israeli troops during clashes at the border fence on Friday and the two Hamas militants killed early on Saturday.
A woman was wounded by Israeli army fire during clashes at the border following one funeral attended by thousands in the Gaza Strip city of Khan Yunis.
– Intifada calls –
There have been fears of a much larger escalation of violence after Hamas leader Ismail Haniya called for a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising, and analysts have been anxiously watching what happens next.
Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad militant group both renewed that call on Saturday.
Dozens of protesters were wounded by rubber bullets or live fire in clashes in the occupied West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem that followed the main weekly Muslim prayers on Friday.
Tens of thousands also protested in Muslim and Arab countries, including Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia.
Saturday’s pre-dawn air strike on a base of Hamas’s military wing in Nusseirat, in the central Gaza Strip, was one of several, the Israeli military said.
It followed three rocket attacks Friday night from Gaza into southern Israel.
“Today… in response to the rockets fired at southern Israeli communities throughout yesterday, Israel air force aircraft targeted four facilities belonging to the Hamas terror organisation in the Gaza Strip,” the army said.
The Hamas health ministry in Gaza said the two dead men were members of the movement’s armed wing, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2008.
On Friday night, a rocket hit the southern Israeli city of Sderot although Israeli public radio said it did not explode and did not cause any casualties.
The Israeli military said that its Iron Dome air defence system intercepted an earlier rocket fired from the Palestinian enclave.
The military retaliated on Friday night with air strikes on what it said were two targets and the Gaza health ministry said 14 people were wounded, among them women and children.
A previously unknown Salafist group calling itself the Salahedin Brigades claimed responsibility for one of the attacks.
But the Israeli army said it held Hamas responsible for all attacks from territory under its control.
“The rockets fired at Israeli civilian communities are a severe act of aggression,” it said. “Hamas is responsible for these attacks threatening civilian lives and all actions originating from the Gaza Strip.”
– US isolated –
Trump’s decision drew lavish praise from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but has sparked a worldwide diplomatic backlash.
Five European countries on the UN Security Council insisted the new US policy was not consistent with past resolutions, including one that declares east Jerusalem to be Israeli-occupied.
The meeting was requested by eight of the 15 members of the council but was largely symbolic as no vote on a resolution was planned because the US wields veto power.
Abbas welcomed the international concern.
The Israeli army said around 4,500 Palestinians “participated in violent riots” along the Gaza-Israel border.
It said that troops shot at “dozens” of what it said were ringleaders of the disturbances.
In the West Bank, thousands of Palestinians took part in “violent riots” throughout the territory, with 28 arrested and about 65 wounded, the army said.
Trump said his defiant move – making good on a 2016 presidential campaign pledge – marked the start of a “new approach” to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But many analysts question how a balanced agreement can be reached by granting such a major Israeli demand before negotiations have even started.
Israel has long claimed all of Jerusalem as its indivisible capital, while the Palestinians see the annexed eastern sector of the city as the capital of their future state.
Its status is the most sensitive issue in the decades-long conflict.