Fatah calls for protests against US VP Jerusalem visit

RAMALLAH – Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah faction on Saturday called for a massive demonstration next week to protest against a visit to Jerusalem by US Vice President Mike Pence after Washington said it would recognise the holy city as Israel’s capital.

Breaking with decades of US policy, President Donald Trump also said on December 6 that he would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The move has stirred global condemnation and sparked angry protests across Arab and Muslim countries, as well as deadly clashes in the occupied territories between Palestinians and Israeli forces.

It also prompted Abbas to cancel a meeting with Pence, who arrives Wednesday in Jerusalem, and warn that Washington no longer had a role to play in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. “We call for angry protests at the entrances to Jerusalem and in its Old City to coincide with the visit on Wednesday of US Vice President Mike Pence and to protest against Trump’s decision,” Fatah said in a statement.

The status of Jerusalem is one of the most controversial issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel seized control of the eastern part of the city in the 1967 Middle East war and sees the whole of Jerusalem as its undivided capital. The Palestinians view the east as the capital of their future state.

The call to protest came as thousands of Palestinians took part in funerals for four men killed Friday in clashes with Israeli forces during protests in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

Mourners chanted anti-Trump slogans and masked men fired into the air during one of the ceremonies in the village of Beit Ula in the occupied West Bank.

Funerals were also held for the two other Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in Gaza, where the enclave’s Islamist Hamas rulers had on Friday called for a “day of rage”. One of those killed was Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh, a Palestinian who lost his legs in an Israeli attack a decade ago, who, with his wheelchair, was a regular feature at protests along Gaza’s border with Israel.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniya attended Abu Thurayeh’s funeral in a refugee camp west of Gaza City.

“With his death there is no valid excuse not to fight,” Haniya said. “No one in the world can change the truth that Palestine and Jerusalem belong only to the Palestinians,” he said.

Friday’s deaths brought to eight the number of Palestinians killed in violence or air strikes since Trump’s Jerusalem move, and hundreds have been also wounded. Pence will no longer see Palestinian officials during his visit to the region after they – as well as Egyptian Muslim and Christian religious leaders – cancelled meetings in protest at the embassy move.

“We understand that the Palestinians may need a bit of a cooling off period, that’s fine,” a senior White House official said Friday. “We will be ready when the Palestinians are ready to re-engage.”

Pence is expected to try to push the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward after he lands in Jerusalem on Wednesday, US administration officials have said.

They also suggested that that the Western Wall – in largely Palestinian east Jerusalem – would almost certainly be part of Israel under any deal, sparking Palestinian condemnation. “We will not accept any changes to the 1967 border of east Jerusalem,” Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesman for the Palestinian president, said Saturday. “This American position proves once again that the current US administration is completely out of the peace process,” he said, adding that Trump’s decision on Jerusalem was “totally unacceptable”.

A US administration official said Friday: “We cannot envision any situation under which the Western Wall would not be part of Israel.” Another one added: “We cannot imagine Israel would sign a peace agreement that didn’t include the Western Wall.”

Egypt opened its largely sealed border with Gaza on Saturday for only the second time since the Palestinian Authority took control of the crossing from the territory’s Islamist rulers Hamas.

The Hamas-run interior ministry, which was organising departures from the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Yunis, said the crossing would stay open for four days but, in the Egypt direction, for humanitarian cases only.

Those include people needing medical treatment unavailable in Gaza as well as students enrolled at Egyptian universities and Gazans with jobs abroad.

There were tearful scenes at the makeshift departure point as families said their farewells.

Rafah is Gaza’s only border crossing not controlled by Israel.

Hamas handed control of the Gaza side to the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority on November 1 as the first part of an Egyptian-brokered reconciliation deal designed to end a bitter decade-long split.

That was supposed to have been followed by the handover of full civil control in Gaza by December 1.

But the target date was missed amid differences over the future of tens of thousands of civil servants recruited by Hamas since it seized control of the territory in 2007.

Egypt opened the border for three days last month – the first time it had done so since the reconciliation deal.

Prior to that the crossing had been open for just 14 days this year, according to the Hamas-run interior ministry.

Up to 20,000 Gazans have applied to enter Egypt, far more than are able to cross during the brief openings.

Some 200 people passed through on Saturday morning, 10 of them medical cases, the ministry said.

Both Israel and Egypt have maintained blockades of Gaza for years, arguing that they are necessary to isolate Hamas.

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