New protests flare over US Jerusalem declaration
JERUSALEM – New protests flared in the Middle East and elsewhere Sunday over US President Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move that has drawn global condemnation and sparked days of unrest in the Palestinian territories.
Trump’s announcement on Wednesday has been followed by days of protests and clashes in the Palestinian territories. Four Palestinians were killed either in clashes or from Israeli air strikes in retaliation for rockets fired from the Gaza Strip.
Tens of thousands have also protested in Muslim and Arab countries, including Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia. Further protests were held in Lebanon, Indonesia, Egypt and the Palestinian territories on Sunday.
Lebanese security forces fired tear gas and water cannons at several hundred demonstrators near the US embassy.
Protestors waving Palestinian and Lebanese flags, and sporting black-and-white checked keffiyeh scarves, chanted slogans against Trump, an AFP correspondent at the protest said.
Several people were injured by rocks, tear gas, and rubber bullets, the correspondent said. In Jakarta, some 5,000 Indonesians protested in solidarity with the Palestinians, gathering outside the US embassy in the world’s most-populous Muslim country.
In Cairo, students and professors demonstrated at the prestigious Al-Azhar University, a university spokesman said, with pictures on social media showing several hundred protesters. Dozens of students protested at two other Cairo universities.
A protest and clashes also broke out in Al-Arroub refugee camp in the south of the occupied West Bank, leaving one Palestinian wounded from rubber bullets, the Palestinian health ministry said.
Separately, the Israeli military said it destroyed a Hamas tunnel stretching from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory – an incident unrelated to the recent unrest, but which threatened to further increase tensions.
Such tunnels have been used in the past to carry out attacks.
Trump’s declaration has been followed by near universal condemnation and diplomatic fallout, with warnings it risks setting off a new round of violence in the turbulent Middle East.
US Vice President Mike Pence is due to visit the region later this month, but Palestinian officials say President Mahmud Abbas will refuse to meet him.
Egypt’s Coptic Pope Tawadros II cancelled a meeting with Pence as well, saying Trump’s announcement had failed to take into account the “feelings of millions” of Arabs.
Arab League foreign ministers on Saturday called on the United States to rescind the move.
Israeli PM Netanyahu’s trip to Europe was long planned, but the recent crisis is almost sure to be discussed.
Both French President Macron and EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini have criticised Trump’s decision, and there have been ongoing tensions between Netanyahu and European Union officials over Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.
The premier criticised European “hypocrisy” as he left for the trip. “While I respect Europe, I am not prepared to accept a double standard from it,” said Netanyahu.
“I hear voices from there condemning President Trump’s historic statement, but I have not heard condemnations of the rockets fired at Israel or the terrible incitement against it.
“I am not prepared to accept this hypocrisy,” he said.
He said the talks with EU foreign ministers on Monday would be the first of their kind with an Israeli prime minister in 22 years.
Trump’s decision on Wednesday upended decades of US diplomacy and broke with international consensus. It drew criticism from every other UN Security Council member at an emergency meeting on Friday.
Clashes in the West Bank and along the fence dividing the Gaza Strip from Israel have seen Palestinians burning tyres while hurling stones and firebombs at Israeli troops, who responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds.
Retaliatory Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip in response to rockets killed two Hamas militants on Saturday while two others died near the border fence the day before.
Palestinian health officials say more than 1,100 people were wounded from tear gas, rubber bullets, live fire and other means from Thursday to Saturday. There have been fears of a much larger escalation of violence after Hamas leader Ismail Haniya called for a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
In Rome, Pope Francis called Sunday for “wisdom and prudence”, asking world leaders “to avert a new spiral of violence”.
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 Washington has found itself increasingly isolated on the global stage. Five European countries on the Security Council insisted the new US policy was inconsistent with past resolutions, including one declaring east Jerusalem to be Israeli-occupied.
The UN meeting was largely symbolic as no vote on a resolution was planned because the US wields veto power.
The decision is likely to impact domestic Palestinian politics, particularly between Abbas’s Fatah and the Islamist Hamas, now at a key stage in a fragile reconciliation process after a decade of bitter enmity. Hamas, which violently seized Gaza from Fatah in 2007, is due to formally hand back power on Sunday.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said Saturday the group “reiterated its commitment to all that has been signed and agreed upon and the completion of the handover”.
Meanwhile, a Palestinian stabbed and seriously wounded an Israeli security guard in Jerusalem on Sunday.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the guard being treated was in serious condition, while the assailant had been arrested following the attack at the Jerusalem central bus station.