First Published: 2017-12-08

Heavy Israeli deployment ahead of Friday prayers
Hundreds more police deployed inside, in vicinity of Old City following Palestinian calls for protests after main weekly prayers.
Middle East Online

The day of ire

JERUSALEM - Palestinians called for a "day of rage" on Friday and Israeli police deployed in large numbers as US President Donald Trump's declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital sent shockwaves through the region for a second day.

Diplomatic fallout from the deeply controversial declaration also continued, with suggestions Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas could refuse to meet US Vice President Mike Pence on his visit to the region later this month.

The UN Security Council was to meet later Friday in an emergency session to discuss Trump's move, which has drawn near universal condemnation, including from United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Whether unrest would spread and spiral both in the Palestinian territories and elsewhere in the region was being closely watched.

Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, was calling for a "day of rage" after its leader Ismail Haniya said a new intifada, or uprising, should be launched over Trump's declaration.

Protests were being planned for after the main weekly Muslim prayers at midday after a series of demonstrations and sporadic, low-intensity clashes broke out in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip on Thursday.

Some 22 Palestinians were wounded from rubber bullets or live fire on Thursday.

Several hundred additional police were deployed in and around east Jerusalem's ancient Old City, the location of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third-holiest site in Islam and where thousands typically attend the main weekly prayers.

Israel's military has also deployed hundreds of reinforcements to the West Bank amid uncertainty over the fallout.

The situation was calm in Jerusalem on Friday morning.

- 'God knows where' -

Trump's announcement on Wednesday has been met by a worldwide diplomatic backlash, though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lavished praise on the president and called the declaration "historic."

For Jewish Israelis, the declaration is a simple recognition of reality and validation of their view that Jerusalem is their 3,000-year-old capital.

Trump said his defiant move -- making good on a 2016 presidential campaign pledge -- marks the start of a "new approach" to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But many analysts question how a fair peace process could be possible by granting such a major Israeli demand while seeming to require nothing in return.

Israel has long claimed all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital, while the Palestinians see the eastern sector of the city as the capital of their future state.

Its status is perhaps the most sensitive issue in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and international consensus has been that it must be negotiated between the two sides.

Trump's declaration and intention to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem are moves that may help him domestically since they were long-sought by US evangelical Christian and right-wing Jewish voters -- key parts of his base of supporters.

But while the declaration may mean little immediate concrete change, it risks setting off another round of bloodshed in the turbulent Middle East.

EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said the decision could take the region "backwards to even darker times".

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was "deeply concerned", calling for the Palestinians and Israel to renew negotiations.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it would put the region in a "ring of fire".

Palestinian leaders have been so outraged that they have argued it disqualifies the United States from its traditional role as peace broker in the Middle East conflict.

Mohammad Shtayyeh, a senior Palestinian official who has been involved in past peace talks, questioned what was left to negotiate.

"If these are the signs of the ultimate deal, God knows what the deal is going to be," he said, referring to Trump's pledge to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

"Maybe the expulsion of the Palestinians -- God knows where."

- 'American aggression' -

The declaration is sure to weigh heavily on Pence's upcoming visit.

He is due to meet the Palestinian president in the second half of December on a regional tour, but a senior member of Abbas's Fatah faction said it would not occur.

"The American vice president is not welcome in Palestine. And President Abbas will not welcome him," said Jibril Rajoub.

Abbas himself has not made similar comments and the White House is likely to only consider the meeting cancelled if he does so himself.

A White House aide said Pence "still plans to meet with Abbas as scheduled" and "believes it would be counterproductive for him to pull out of the meeting."

Muslim and Middle Eastern leaders have expressed increasing alarm over Trump's decision to break with decades of precedent with unpredictable consequences.

Abbas travelled to Amman on Thursday and met with Jordan's King Abdullah II, a key US ally in the region.

In a joint statement, they said "any measure tampering with the legal and historical status of Jerusalem is invalid" and warned Trump's decision would "have dangerous repercussions".

Saudi Arabia, another important US ally in the Middle East, has joined the region in condemning the decision.

In Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, the head of the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah, called for a mass demonstration on Monday "to protest and denounce this American aggression".

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, speaking in Paris, called Trump's declaration a "challenge to regional security".

Protests are also planned in Turkey, while in Muslim-majority Malaysia thousands demonstrated outside the US embassy waving banners that read "Hands off Jerusalem" and "Down USA President Trump".

 

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