Clashes erupt across West Bank over US Jerusalem pivot
Jerusalem — Large crowds of worshippers across the Muslim world staged anti-U.S. marches Friday, some stomping on posters of Donald Trump or burning American flags in the largest outpouring of anger yet at the U.S. president’s recognition of bitterly contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
In the holy city itself, prayers at Islam’s third-holiest site dispersed largely without incident, but Palestinians clashed with Israeli troops in several dozen West Bank hotspots and on the border with the Gaza Strip.
Israeli warplanes struck Hamas military targets in the Gaza Strip Friday in response to a rocket fired from the zone that Israel’s military said was intercepted by its Iron Dome missile-defense system.
The Palestinian health ministry said at least 15 people were injured in Friday’s air strikes.
Earlier, a 30-year-old Gaza man was killed by Israeli gunfire, the first death of a protester since Trump’s dramatic midweek announcement. Two Palestinians were seriously wounded, health officials said.
Dozens of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza were hit by live rounds or rubber-coated steel or inhaled tear gas, the officials said.
Trump’s pivot on Jerusalem triggered warnings from America’s friends and foes alike that he is needlessly stirring more conflict in an already volatile region.
The religious and political dispute over Jerusalem forms the emotional core of the Israeli-Arab conflict. The ancient city is home to major Muslim, Jewish and Christian shrines and looms large in the competing national narratives of Israelis and Palestinians.
Trump’s decision on Jerusalem is widely seen in the region as a blatant expression of pro-Israel bias, but it was unclear if protests and confrontations would maintain momentum after Friday. More extensive violence has erupted in the Palestinian areas in the past, including deadly bloodshed triggered by disputes over Jerusalem.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement and other groups had called for three “days of rage” this week. However, Abbas remains an opponent of violence, saying it’s counterproductive and that he might at some point order his security forces to contain protests.
Separately, Fatah’s rival, the Gaza-based Islamic militant Hamas, called this week for a third uprising against Israel, but such appeals have fizzled as Palestinians become more disillusioned with their leaders.
On Friday, demonstrators in the West Bank torched heaps of tires, sending columns of thick black smoke rising over the cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem. Palestinian stone-throwers traded volleys in the streets with soldiers firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Along the Gaza-Israel border fence, Israeli troops fired at stone-throwers.
Across the region — from Asia’s Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan to North Africa’s Algeria and Lebanon in the Levant — thousands of worshippers poured into the streets after midday prayers to voice their anger. Some protesters burned U.S. and Israeli flags or stomped Trump posters that showed the president alongside a Nazi swastika.
In Jordan’s capital of Amman, thousands marched through the center of town, chanting “America is the head of the snake.”
Pro-Western Jordan is a crucial U.S. ally in the fight against Islamic extremists, but King Abdullah II cannot afford to be seen as soft on Jerusalem. His Hashemite dynasty derives its legitimacy from its role as guardian of the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Islam’s third-holiest site.
Trump’s decision has also strained U.S. foreign relations.
U.N. Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov told an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council on Friday that Trump’s announcement created a “serious risk” of a chain of unilateral actions that would push the goal of peace further away.
Palestinian U.N. Ambassador Riyad Mansour warned of the danger of “a never-ending religious war that will only be exploited by extremists, fueling more radicalism, violence and strife in the region and elsewhere.”
Even traditional U.S. allies sharply criticized Trump’s decision.
Sweden’s U.N. Ambassador Olof Skoog said the U.S. action “contradicts international law and Security Council resolutions.” Britain’s Ambassador Matthew Rycroft called the U.S. decision “unhelpful to peace,” the French envoy expressed regret and Italy’s Sebastiano Cardi warned of “the risk of unrest and tensions in the region.”
The U.S. ambassador, Nikki Haley, told the council that the Trump administration is more committed to peace “than we’ve ever been before — and we believe we might be closer to that goal than ever before.” Haley did not explain.
In Europe, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday played down the impact of Trump’s policy shift, which also included a pledge to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Tillerson said it will likely take years for the U.S. to open an embassy in Jerusalem.
In a news conference with the French foreign minister, Tillerson said Trump’s recognition of the city as Israel’s capital “did not indicate any final status for Jerusalem.”
The United States is making clear that Jerusalem’s borders will be left to Israelis and Palestinians to “negotiate and decide,” he said.
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.