Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to shun US Vice-President Mike Pence over Jerusalem move

Abbas delivers remarks during a visit to the West Bank city of Bethlehem by US President Donald Trump in May 2017.
Abbas delivers remarks during a visit to the West Bank city of Bethlehem by US President Donald Trump in May 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories (AFP) – Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas will refuse to meet US Vice-President Mike Pence later this month (December 2017) following Washington’s controversial policy shift on Jerusalem, an aide said on Saturday, as protests gripped the Palestinian territories for a third straight day.

Retaliatory Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip killed two Hamas militants as unrest simmered over President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Wednesday.

Four people have been killed and dozens wounded since Trump announced the move, which drew criticism from every other UN Security Council member at an emergency meeting on Friday.

“There will be no meeting with the vice president of America in Palestine,” Abbas’ diplomatic adviser Majdi al-Khaldi told AFP.

“The United States has crossed all the red lines with the Jerusalem decision.”

Egypt’s Coptic Pope Tawadros II also cancelled a meeting with Pence, with the church saying it “declines to receive” him in protest at Trump’s announcement which failed to take into account the “feelings of millions” of Arabs.

On Friday, Ahmed al-Tayeb who heads Al-Azhar, Egypt’s top Sunni Muslim institution, also scrapped plans to meet Pence over the “unjust and unfair American decision on Jerusalem”.

There were fresh clashes Saturday as Palestinian protesters in the occupied West Bank hurled stones at Israeli troops who responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds.

In Gaza, mourners vented their anger at the funerals of two people killed during clashes at the border fence on Friday and the two Hamas militants killed early on Saturday.

Later on Saturday, unrest spread into Israel when a bus was stoned near Arab towns in the northern Wadi Ara district, injuring the driver.

Police said they arrested two young men from the Israeli Arab town of Arara.

'VIOLENT RIOTS'

An Israeli army statement said “violent riots have erupted at approximately 20 locations” in the West Bank and Gaza.

It said soldiers responded to protesters with unspecified “riot dispersal means”, lightly wounding three Palestinians.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said 171 people were hurt in the West Bank and 60 in Gaza Saturday, with injuries ranging from gunshot wounds to tear gas inhalation and beating by security forces.

In Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, police fired stun grenades to disperse Palestinian demonstrators on the main Salahedin Street, an AFP cameraman said.

A police statement said four policemen were slightly injured and 13 protesters arrested.

The Red Crescent said 12 Palestinians were injured by shrapnel from grenades or by blows from police.

INTIFADA CALLS

There have been fears of a much larger escalation of violence after Hamas leader Ismail Haniya called for a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad militant group both renewed that call on Saturday.

Abbas’ Fatah organisation urged Palestinians to “keep up confrontation and broaden it to all points where the Israeli army is present” in the West Bank.

Dozens of protesters were wounded by rubber bullets or live fire in clashes in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem that followed Friday’s main weekly Muslim prayers.

Tens of thousands also protested in Muslim and Arab countries, including Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia.

Saturday’s pre-dawn air strike on a base of Hamas’s military wing in Nusseirat in the central Gaza Strip was one of several, the Israeli military said.

It said aircraft “targeted four facilities belonging to the Hamas terror organisation” a day after three rocket attacks from the Palestinian enclave into southern Israel.

One rocket hit the southern Israeli town of Sderot, although public radio said it did not explode and did not cause any casualties.

Israel had already responded on Friday to rocket fire with air strikes which the Gaza health ministry said wounded 14 people, including women and children.

In an Arabic-language Facebook post on Saturday, a senior Israeli military officer warned the people of Gaza.

“Continued fire will result in a harsh and painful response from the Israel Defence Forces, so do not test our strength,” wrote Major-General Yoav Mordechai, head of the defence ministry agency responsible for civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories.

The Hamas health ministry in Gaza said the two men killed on Saturday were in the movement’s armed wing, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2008.

US IS ISOLATED

Trump’s decision drew lavish praise from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but sparked a global diplomatic backlash.

Five European countries on the Security Council insisted the new US policy was inconsistent with past resolutions, including one declaring east Jerusalem to be Israeli-occupied.

The UN meeting was largely symbolic as no vote on a resolution was planned because the US wields veto power.

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

The decision is likely to impact domestic Palestinian politics, particularly between Abbas’ Fatah and the Islamist Hamas, now at a key stage in a fragile reconciliation process after a decade of bitter enmity.

Abbas “will soon take a harder line towards the peace process and a softer line toward Hamas than he otherwise would have,” wrote Ghaith al-Omari of the Washington Institute of Near East Policy.

Hamas, which violently seized Gaza from Fatah in 2017, is due to formally hand back power on Sunday.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said Saturday the group “reiterated its commitment to all that has been signed and agreed upon and the completion of the handover”.