Clashes, denunciations as Palestinians protest Trump move on Jerusalem
Ilan Ben Zion, The Associated Press
Published Thursday, December 7, 2017 2:29AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, December 7, 2017 7:57PM EST
JERUSALEM -- Hundreds of Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli troops across the West Bank on Thursday while demonstrators in Gaza burned posters of U.S. President Donald Trump over his widely denounced decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
The leader of the Hamas militant group, which runs Gaza, called for a new armed uprising in a widespread show of anger, as the demonstrators torched American and Israeli flags.
In the West Bank, crowds of protesters set tires on fire and hurled stones at Israeli troops. In Bethlehem, troops fired water cannons and tear gas to disperse a crowd, in clashes that could cloud the upcoming Christmas celebrations in the town of Jesus' birth. In Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian government, protesters set tires on fire, sending a thick plume of black smoke over the city.
Trump's dramatic break on Wednesday with decades of U.S. policy on Jerusalem counters long-standing international assurances to the Palestinians that the fate of the city will be determined in negotiations. The Palestinians seek Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, as a future capital.
Palestinians shuttered their schools and shops on Thursday to begin three "days of rage" over Trump's decision. Rallies were underway in other West Bank cities, and a demonstration was being held outside the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem's Old City.
"We are here. We believe in our rights," said Rania Hatem, a protester outside the Old City.
Palestinian officials said dozens of protesters were lightly wounded, most from tear gas inhalation. Friday, the Muslim holy day when Palestinians gather for weekly mass prayers, could prove more violent.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas' leader Ismail Haniyeh called on Palestinians to launch a new intifada, or uprising, against Israel on Friday.
"The American decision is an aggression on our people and a war on our sanctuaries," Haniyeh said in a speech, urging supporters "to be ready for any orders."
"We want the uprising to last and continue to let Trump and the occupation regret this decision," he said.
The Israeli military said two rockets were fired from Gaza but fell short, landing in Palestinian territory. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Hamas, a group that seeks Israel's destruction, killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks in the early 2000s. But the group's capabilities are more limited now. Gaza, Hamas' stronghold, is closed by an Israeli blockade, while in the West Bank, many of its members have been arrested. Nonetheless, it possesses a large arsenal of rockets in Gaza capable of striking much of Israel.
The Israeli military said it would deploy several battalions to the West Bank ahead of Friday, while other troops have been put on alert to address "possible developments."
The conflicting claims to Jerusalem, and especially its Old City, where sensitive Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites are located, lie at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While Trump's decision had no impact on the city's daily life, it carried deep symbolic meaning, and was seen as an attempt to impose a solution on the Palestinians.
Israel, which claims all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital, has welcomed Trump's decision. Netanyahu said Trump "bound himself forever" to the history of Jerusalem with the move and claimed other states are considering following suit.
"We are already in contact with other states that will make a similar recognition," he said Thursday.
Anger at the U.S. has rippled across the Arab world.
Saudi Arabia's royal court condemned the Trump administration's decision in a rare public rebuke by the U.S. ally. The regional powerhouse, which could help the White House push through a Middle East settlement, said Thursday it had already warned against this step and "continues to express its deep regret at the U.S. administration's decision," describing it "unjustified and irresponsible."
Trump's move puts the Sunni nation in a bind. The kingdom, particularly its powerful crown prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, enjoys close relations with Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who leads Trump's efforts to restart Mideast peace talks.
U.S. embassies across much of the Middle East and parts of Africa warned American citizens of possible protests following Trump's move.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has suggested that with Trump's move, the United States disqualified itself as mediator, a role it has played exclusively in more than two decades of stop-and-go negotiations aimed at setting up a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
The stalled talks have failed to bring the Palestinians closer to the state they seek in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel has meanwhile steadily expanded Jewish settlements on war-won lands, even as it said it wants to negotiate.
Trump's claim Wednesday that he still wants to pursue what he has called the "ultimate" deal was met by mounting skepticism.
"With its decision, the U.S. has isolated itself and Israel, and has pushed the area into a dangerous situation and stopped the peace process," said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a senior Abbas aide.
At a meeting Thursday with his closest Arab ally, Jordan's King Abdullah II, Abbas said he is rallying international opposition to Trump's decision, which he called "an unacceptable crime."
Jordan, alongside other U.S. allies in the region, has slammed Trump's decision on Jerusalem. The king is seen as one of Washington's most dependable partners in the battle against Islamic extremism in the region.
At the same time, the legitimacy of his Hashemite dynasty is closely linked to its special role as religious guardian of a major Muslim shrine in east Jerusalem. Jordan, which has a large population with Palestinian roots, cannot afford to be seen as soft on Muslim claims to the holy city.
The European Union's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Trump's announcement "has the potential to send us backwards to even darker times than the one we are already living in."
The Arab League, a group representing most states in the Middle East and North Africa, will meet Saturday. Next week, Turkey will host a gathering of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which has 57 member states.
The region has been bracing for fallout from Trump's seismic policy shift.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday accused Trump of throwing the Mideast into a "ring of fire" and said his motives were difficult to fathom. "It's not possible to understand what you are trying to get out of it," Erdogan said, referring to Trump in a speech to a group of workers at Ankara's airport.
Associated Press writers Fares Akram in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, and Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report