Region braces for more violence after US move on Jerusalem

UN Security Council to meet amid international outrage over Trump decision

US president Donald Trump announces that his country will recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and in doing so will move the US embassy from Tel Aviv. Video: The White House

 

The Middle East is braced for a second day of violence after tensions flared in the region on Thursday following the United States’ decision to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and move its embassy to the contested city.

Demonstrations took place in Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jerusalem itself as Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli police. At least 31 people were wounded by Israeli gunfire and rubber bullets, one seriously, medics reported.

Israel also confirmed it launched strikes at Gaza after it said that three rockets had been fired from the Gaza Strip, with one landing in Israeli territory.

Hamas, the Palestinian-based Islamist group, called for a “day of rage” on Friday, prompting expectations of further violence in the region during the day of prayer, traditionally a flashpoint for protests at moments of heightened tension.

As international condemnation of the United States’ unilateral move to formally recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital continued, the UN Security Council was due to meet in New York today.

More than half of the 15-member body, including Britain and France, demanded a discussion in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s announcement on Wednesday, which represents a departure from decades of US foreign policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

While the European Union again underscored its opposition to the move on Thursday, insisting that Jerusalem must be the capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state, in the United States dozens of members of Congress welcomed Mr Trump’s decision.

Drastic regression

Though welcomed by many at home, Mr Trump’s decision has sparked outrage abroad, with countries across the Muslim world as well as Russia, China and a host of European countries condemning the decision.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas met with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Thursday to discuss the development. Though a US ally, Jordan has condemned the move as “legally null”.

Saudi Arabia, which has also developed a close relationship with the Trump administration, called on the US to reverse its decision, describing it as a “drastic regression in the efforts to move the peace process forward”.

Mr Trump reversed decades of US policy on the Middle East on Wednesday by formally recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a highly contentious issue given that both Israelis and Palestinians claim the city as their capital.

In a speech in the White House, he said the decision was a “recognition of reality” and that it was “also the right thing to do”, adding: “It’s something that has to be done.”

“Israel is a sovereign nation with the right like every other sovereign nation to determine its own capital. Acknowledging this as a fact is a necessary condition for achieving peace,” he added, as he also announced plans to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Bold action

Addressing reporters in the White House on Thursday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she was not aware of any other countries that were planning to follow the lead of the US and move their embassies to Jerusalem. “I’m not saying that they aren’t, but I’m not aware of them.”

She described the US president’s announcement on Jerusalem as “a very courageous and bold action”, and something that Congress supported.

Speaking in Brussels on Thursday, Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign affairs chief, said the US announcement “has a very worrying potential impact” for peace in the region. “It could send us backwards into even darker times than the ones we are already living in.”

Russian president Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan also spoke by phone on Thursday, and expressed serious concern about Washington’s decision on Jerusalem.

In a statement after the call, the Kremlin said that both leaders had agreed that further escalation of tensions in the Middle East could not be allowed, and that the focus should be on finding compromises, including on Jerusalem.

The message was very different in Israel, where prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a speech in Israel’s foreign ministry: “President Trump has immortalised himself in the chronicles of our capital. His name will now be held aloft, alongside other names connected to the glorious history of Jerusalem and of our people.”

While Hamas called for a “day of rage” said it would be “the first day of the intifada against the occupier”, Mr Abbas’s Fatah party urged protests to be peaceful.