Violent clashes in West Bank and Gaza Strip over Trump's Jerusalem move ahead of Friday's 'Day of Rage' protests

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Palestinian Islamist group Hamas called on Thursday for an intifada against Israel following US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
Palestinians refugees attend a protest against US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip on Dec 7, 2017. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Palestinians protest against the US decision to recognise the city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, on Dec 6, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

RAMALLAH, WEST BANK (WASHINGTON POST/REUTERS) - Skirmishes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli soldiers broke out Thursday (Dec 7) in Ramallah and other places in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, one day after US President Donald Trump announced that his administration would recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

At least 31 people were wounded by Israeli gunfire and rubber bullets, medics said.

The Palestinian Authority called for a general strike in Palestinian cities and, in Gaza, the Islamist Hamas movement urged its followers to ignite a third intifada, or uprising, against Israel.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh called for a new uprising in the Palestinian territories and declared Friday a "Day of Rage".

"Tomorrow should be a day of rage and the beginning of a broad movement for an uprising that I call the intifada of freedom of Jerusalem," he said.

On Friday's Day of Rage, rallies and protests are expected near Israeli-controlled checkpoints in the West Bank and along the border with Gaza. Friday prayers at the Muslim shrine of Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem could also be a flashpoint.

Haniyeh called on the Palestinian Authority to stop security coordination with Israel and "enable the resistance in the occupied West Bank to respond to this blatant aggression".

"Our people and factions of the resistance are in a permanent meeting to follow developments to confront this strategic threat that threatens the city of Jerusalem," he added.

At a checkpoint near Ramallah, Israeli forces fired dozens of rounds of tear gas and stun grenades at hundreds of Palestinian protesters gathering to air their anger over Trump's statement. They burned tires and pelted the soldiers with rocks. "This will be bad," said an ambulance driver.

Clashes also erupted in East Jerusalem and at the border fence between Israel and Gaza. There were early reports of injuries on both sides.

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Trump's announcement on Wednesday that he would move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and his declaration that the United States recognises Jerusalem as Israel's capital reversed a decades-old US policy. Many fear that the step could spark another bloody conflict in the region.

Israel's army said it was preparing for an increase in violence in the coming days and that it has beefed up its troops in the West Bank, adding reinforcements to its combat intelligence and territorial defense units.

US institutions in the region were also readying themselves for possible violent fallout. Reuters reported that a State Department communique has been sent to diplomats at the embassy in Tel Aviv with talking points to convey to Israeli officials.

"While I recognise that you will publicly welcome this news, I ask that you restrain your official response," Reuters quoted the document dated Dec 6 as saying. "We expect there to be resistance to this news in the Middle East and around the world. We are still judging the impact this decision will have on US facilities and personnel overseas."

In his televised speech on Wednesday, Trump said that presidents before him had signed a waiver delaying the recognition of Jerusalem under the belief that it might advance the cause of peace.

But, he said, "after more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result".

"Therefore, I have determined that it is time to officially recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," he said.

A wounded Palestinian protester is evacuated during clashes with Israeli troops at a protest against US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the border with Israel in the Gaza Strip. PHOTO: REUTERS
A Palestinian woman reacts on a street in Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip, as people gather during a Hamas rally. PHOTO: AFP

Successive US administrations have held off moving the embassy from Tel Aviv since the mid-1990s, in line with an international consensus that Jerusalem's status should be decided in a final peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Israelis see Jerusalem as their eternal and undivided capital, while Palestinians envision the predominantly Arab eastern part of the city as the future capital of a Palestinian state.

Fighters of Ezz al-Din Al Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Palestinian Hamas movement, attend a protest in Beit Hanun town in the northern Gaza Strip. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the US move would galvanise the Palestinian struggle for independence.

Following Trump's announcement, Abbas said the US could no longer be a fair mediator in the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.

The Palestinian Authority called for three days of rage and ordered all Palestinians national institutions in the West Bank and Gaza to observe a general strike on Thursday. Schools and government offices from Ramallah to Hebron were shuttered.

With backing from Turkey, the Palestinians said that recognising Jerusalem was in breach of both international law and UN resolutions. Eight countries on the 15-member UN Security Council called for an emergency meeting to discuss the matter. It is scheduled for Friday.

Despite the note of caution from the State Department, the mood in Israel was buoyant, with government ministers and commentators declaring a diplomatic victory for the Jewish state and for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Speaking at a Foreign Ministry conference in Jerusalem on Thursday, Netanyahu heralded Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as a "historic statement".

"President Trump has always linked himself to the history of our capital," he said. "His name will now float along with other names in the context of the glorious history of Jerusalem and our people."

The Prime Minister also said he had already been in contact with other countries that were also ready to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

"I have no doubt that as soon as the American Embassy moves to Jerusalem, and even before that, many embassies will move to Jerusalem. It's about time."

In columns published in Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, commentators Nahum Barnea and Shimon Shiffer also commended Trump for what they called his bravery in changing a policy that Israelis see as a 70-year-old wrong.

"Those opposed to the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital are wrong. Trump is right. He is right about the issue itself: The 70-year-old refusal by the world to formally recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was a foolish mistake, which was the result of diplomatic cowardice and neglect by Israeli governments," wrote Barnea.

"Moreover, no agreement appears to be anywhere on the horizon. The argument as if the speech would damage the peace process is ridiculous since there is no peace process," he said.

In his piece, Shiffer compared the US President to the little boy in the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Emperor's New Clothes.

"He saw reality for what it is and spoke it out loud."

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