Palestinian stabs Israeli in Jerusalem as anti-Trump protest flares in Beirut

Lebanese security forces fire tear gas to disperse protestors during a demonstration outside the US embassy in Awkar, on the outskirts of Beirut, on Dec 10, 2017.
Lebanese security forces fire tear gas to disperse protestors during a demonstration outside the US embassy in Awkar, on the outskirts of Beirut, on Dec 10, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

JERUSALEM (REUTERS, AFP) – A Palestinian stabbed an Israeli security guard at Jerusalem’s main bus station on Sunday (Dec 10), police said, and violence flared near the US  Embassy in Beirut over US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Four days of street protests in the Palestinian territories over Trump’s announcement on Wednesday have largely died down, but his overturning of long-standing US policy on Jerusalem – a city holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians – drew more Arab warnings of potential damage to prospects for Middle East peace.

“Our hope is that everything is calming down and that we are returning to a path of normal life without riots and without violence,” Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Army Radio.

But in Jerusalem, a security guard was in critical condition after a 24-year-old Palestinian man from the occupied West Bank stabbed him after approaching a metal detector at an entrance to the city’s central bus station, police said. The alleged assailant was taken into custody after a passer-by tackled him.

In Beirut, meanwhile, Lebanese security forces fired tear gas and water canons at protesters, some of them waving Palestinian flags, near the US Embassy.

Demonstrators set fires in the street, torched US and Israeli flags and threw projectiles towards security forces that had barricaded the main road to the complex.

In public remarks on Sunday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, a frequent critic of Israel, called it an “invader state” and a “terror state”.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of protesters rallied in Morocco’s capital Rabat on Sunday as the protests continued to spread.

Waving Palestinian flags, a sea of demonstrators marched from Rabat’s Bab el-Had square to Morocco’s parliament building, down Mohammed VI Avenue, the city’s main thoroughfare.  

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI earlier expressed his “deep concern” over Trump’s move, acting as head of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) Al-Quds Committee, which lobbies on issues related to Jerusalem.

Arab foreign ministers who met in Cairo on Saturday urged the US to abandon its decision on Jerusalem and said the move would spur violence throughout the region.

Echoing that view, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates, said the US move “could throw a lifebuoy to terrorist and armed groups, which have begun to lose ground” in the Middle East.

Pope Francis on Sunday renewed a call for “wisdom and prudence” over Trump's decision. “The Holy Father renews his appeal for the wisdom and prudence of everyone, and raises fervent prayers so that the leaders of nations, in this time of special gravity, commit themselves to avert a new spiral of violence,” a statement from the Vatican said.

Most countries consider East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after capturing it in a 1967 war, to be occupied territory and say the status of the city should be decided at future Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Israel says that all of Jerusalem is its capital, while Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state.

GAZA TUNNEL

Along Israel’s tense frontier with the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military on Sunday destroyed what it described as a“significant” cross-border attack tunnel dug by the enclave’s dominant Islamist group, Hamas.

There was no immediate comment on the demolition, which came as Palestinian factions tried to meet Sunday’s deadline for an Egyptian-mediated handover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas to Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas after a decade’s schism.

Pre-dawn Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip on Saturday killed two Palestinian gunmen after militants fired rockets from the area into Israel on Friday.

In the Indonesian capital Jakarta on Sunday, thousands protested outside the US embassy, many waving banners saying“Palestine is in our hearts”.

Leaders in Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, have joined a global chorus of condemnation of Trump’s announcement, including from Western allies.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, said that an approaching meeting of the OIC would complicate Trump’s plans.

“With the roadmap we will create during the OIC meeting, we will show that the decision will not be easy to implement,” he said on Sunday, adding that Turkey considers Trump’s Jerusalem announcement as void.

Erdogan on Sunday also described Israel as a “terrorist state” and vowed to use “all means to fight” against the US move on Jerusalem. “Palestine is an innocent victim... As for Israel, it is a terrorist state, yes, terrorist!” Erdogan said in a speech in the central city of Sivas. “We will not abandon Jerusalem to the mercy of a state that kills children.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to critics in a statement before talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Sunday, to be followed by a meeting with European foreign ministers in Brussels.

“I hear (from Europe) voices of condemnation over President Trump’s historic announcement, but I have not heard any condemnation for the rocket firing against Israel that has come (after the announcement) and the awful incitement against us,” Netanyahu said.

The Trump administration has said it is still committed to reviving Palestinian-Israeli talks that collapsed in 2014, but jettisoning old policies is necessary to break the deadlock. 

Washington says it has not taken a position on Jerusalem’s final status or borders, but it is sensible to recognise that any future peace deal will have Israel’s capital in the city. 

The United States was “as committed to the peace process as we’ve ever been”, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Sunday.

Trump “didn’t talk about boundaries, he didn’t talk about borders... Because the final status of Jerusalem is between the Palestinians and the Israelis. It’s not for the Americans to decide.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will not meet US Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to the region, Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki said on Saturday.

The White House said on Sunday that decision was unfortunate and Pence looked forward to seeing Netanyahu and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. 

“It’s unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority is walking away again from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region,” said Jarrod Agen, a spokesman for Pence.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki has said the Palestinians will be looking for a new peace talks broker instead of the US and would seek a United Nations Security Council resolution over Trump’s decision.