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Trump’s move sparks skirmishes in West Bank and Gaza Strip

Sheetal Sukhija - Friday 8th December, 2017

JERUSALEM, Israel - A day after U.S. President Donald Trump announced that his administration would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, skirmishes broke out between Palestinian protesters and Israeli soldiers.

Several people engaged in clashes in Ramallah and other places in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Thursday.

According to local reports, clashes were witnessed after the Palestinian Authority called for a general strike in Palestinian cities.

Thousands of Palestinians rallied in Gaza, some chanting, “Death to America! Death to the fool Trump!” and burning tyres.

The Islamist Hamas movement in Gaza urged its followers to ignite a third intifada, or uprising, against Israel.

Calling for a new uprising in the Palestinian territories, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has declared Friday a day of rage.

He said, “Tomorrow should be a day of rage and the beginning of a broad movement for an uprising that I call the intifada of freedom of Jerusalem.”

He even called on the Palestinian Authority to stop security coordination with Israel and “enable the resistance in the occupied West Bank to respond to this blatant aggression.”

Haniyeh added, “Our people and factions of the resistance are in a permanent meeting to follow developments to confront this strategic threat that threatens the city of Jerusalem.”

Meanwhile, reports noted that at a checkpoint near Ramallah, Israeli forces fired dozens of rounds of tear gas and stun grenades at hundreds of Palestinian protesters gathering to air their anger over Trump’s statement. 

Officials said that protesters burned tires and pelted soldiers with rocks.  

Clashes also erupted in East Jerusalem and at the border fence between Israel and Gaza. 

While protests so far have been scattered and largely non-violent, both sides reported many injuries. 

Israel’s army has said it was preparing for an increase in violence in the coming days.

According to Israeli army officials, troops in the West Bank had been beefed up, adding reinforcements to its combat intelligence and territorial defense units.

U.S. institutions in the region were also readying themselves for possible violent fallout.

According to reports, a State Department communique has been sent to diplomats at the embassy in Tel Aviv with talking points to convey to Israeli officials.

The document dated December 6 reportedly said, “While I recognize that you will publicly welcome this news, I ask that you restrain your official response. We expect there to be resistance to this news in the Middle East and around the world. We are still judging the impact this decision will have on U.S. facilities and personnel overseas.”

However, in Israel, the mood was buoyant, with government ministers and commentators declaring a diplomatic victory for the Jewish state and for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

Addressing a Foreign Ministry conference in Jerusalem on Thursday, Netanyahu heralded Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as a “historic statement.” 

He said, “President Trump has always linked himself to the history of our capital. His name will now float along with other names in the context of the glorious history of Jerusalem and our people.”

Netanyahu further said he had already been in contact with other countries that were also ready to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. 

Adding, “I have no doubt that as soon as the American Embassy moves to Jerusalem, and even before that, many embassies will move to Jerusalem. It’s about time.”

Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth carried columns by commentators Nahum Barnea and Shimon Shiffer who commended Trump for what they called his bravery in  changing a policy that Israelis see as a 70-year-old wrong. 

Barnea wrote, “Those opposed to the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital are wrong. Trump is right. He is right about the issue itself: The 70-year-old refusal by the world to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was a foolish mistake, which was the result of diplomatic cowardice and neglect by Israeli governments.” 

Adding, “Moreover, no agreement appears to be anywhere on the horizon. The argument as if the speech would damage the peace process is ridiculous since there is no peace process.”

Shiffer meanwhile compared the U.S. president to the little boy in the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and said, “He saw reality for what it is and spoke it out loud.”

In his televised speech on Wednesday, Trump announced that the U.S. will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, sparking warnings from several groups and world leaders.

Trump announced that he would move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem reversing a decades-old U.S. policy. 

The U.S. President added that presidents before him had signed a waiver delaying the recognition of Jerusalem under the belief that it might advance the cause of peace. 

He said that “after more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result.”

Adding, “Therefore, I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

Many groups and leaders have expressed fears that the step could spark another bloody conflict in the region.

Since the mid-1990s, successive U.S. administrations have held off moving the embassy from Tel Aviv, in line with an international consensus that Jerusalem’s status should be decided in a final peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians.

While Palestinians envision the predominantly Arab eastern part of the city as the future capital of a Palestinian state, Israelis view Jerusalem as their eternal and undivided capital.

On Wednesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned that the U.S. move would galvanize the Palestinian struggle for independence. 

Abbas said post the announcement that the U.S. could no longer be a fair mediator in the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. 

Subsequently, the Palestinian Authority called for three days of rage and ordered all Palestinians national institutions in the West Bank and Gaza to observe a general strike on Thursday. 

In line with the strike, schools and government offices from Ramallah to Hebron were shuttered. 

Palestinians, who received backing from Turkey, argued that recognizing Jerusalem was in breach of both international law and UN resolutions. 

After Trump’s announcement, eight countries on the 15-member UN Security Council called for an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the matter. 

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