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U.S. to Recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital, Trump Says, Alarming Middle East Leaders

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President Trump told Israeli and Arab leaders on Tuesday that he plans to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a symbolically fraught move that would upend decades of American policy and upset efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mr. Trump is expected to announce his decision on Wednesday, two days after the expiration of a deadline for him to decide whether to keep the American Embassy in Tel Aviv.

Palestinian officials said Mr. Trump told the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, that the United States would move the embassy to Jerusalem. Jordan said the president gave a similar message to King Abdullah II.

American officials, however, said such a move could not occur immediately for logistical reasons, given the lack of facilities to house the embassy staff. As a result, Mr. Trump is expected to sign a national security waiver that would authorize the administration to keep it in Tel Aviv for an additional six months.

Still, Mr. Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital — and to set in motion an embassy move — is his riskiest foray yet into the thicket of Middle East diplomacy. Arab and European leaders warn that it could derail any peace initiative and even ignite fresh violence in the region.

King Abdullah II strongly cautioned against the move, “stressing that Jerusalem is the key to achieving peace and stability in the region and the world,” according to a statement from the royal palace in Amman.

“King Abdullah stressed that the adoption of this resolution will have serious implications for security and stability in the Middle East, and will undermine the efforts of the American administration to resume the peace process and fuel the feelings of Muslims and Christians,” the statement said.

Few details of the conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Abbas were released, but a P.L.O. spokesman said that the call had given shape to the worst fears of Palestinians — that the United States would break with decades of practice and longstanding international consensus by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The Palestinians hope to make East Jerusalem the capital of a Palestinian state, and the city is of great religious significance to Jews, Christians and Muslims.

“It’s very serious,” said the spokesman, Xavier Abu Eid. “Things look very bad.”

The Palestinian news agency, WAFA, quoted Mr. Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, as saying that Mr. Abbas will continue his contacts with world leaders to prevent such “unacceptable action.”

King Abdullah also spoke with Mr. Abbas, assuring him of Jordan’s support for the Palestinians “in preserving their historic rights in Jerusalem and the need to work together to confront the consequences of this decision,” it said.

Mr. Trump, officials said, assured Mr. Abbas that the administration would protect Palestinian interests in any peace negotiation with Israel. He also invited the Palestinian leader to visit him in Washington for further consultations.

In his phone calls with Arab leaders, Mr. Trump is making the case that settling the question of the American Embassy could actually hasten the peace process by removing a thorny political issue that recurs every six months.

But that is primarily a political problem for Mr. Trump, who promised during the 2016 campaign to move the embassy. His pledge was extremely popular with evangelicals and pro-Israel backers, including the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. They expressed frustration when Mr. Trump signed the waiver in June, keeping the embassy in Jerusalem.

Middle East experts said the administration’s argument that it could not move the embassy immediately made little sense, since all that is required is to place a sign on the existing American consulate, declaring it the embassy.

For Arab leaders, word that the United States would formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital had already caused great consternation. The symbolic statement of the embassy’s change of address, many officials warned, was actually less damaging to the peace process than changing United States policy on Jerusalem’s status.

For the United States to move the embassy would break with international consensus that the status of Jerusalem remains unsettled.

Though Israel houses its parliament, president, prime minister and most ministries in Jerusalem, and Israelis overwhelmingly want the world to acknowledge the Holy City as their seat of government, the international community recognizes de facto Israeli sovereignty only in West Jerusalem.

East Jerusalem was captured by Israeli forces during the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. And the permanent status of Jerusalem as a whole, East and West, was postponed under the Oslo Accords, although Israel extended Jerusalem’s municipal borders to encompass the predominantly Arab eastern neighborhoods.

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Russia’s Putin visits Syria airbase and orders start of pullout

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BBC — President Vladimir Putin has ordered the partial withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria, during an unannounced visit there on Monday.

Mr Putin was met by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as he arrived at the Russian Hmeimim airbase, near Latakia.

Russian military support has been crucial in turning the tide of Syria’s civil war in Mr Assad’s favour.

Mr Putin made a similar withdrawal announcement last year, but Russian military operations continued.

“I order the defence minister and the chief of the general staff to start withdrawing the Russian group of troops to their permanent bases,” Mr Putin said on Tuesday, according to the Russian RIA Novosti news agency.

“I have taken a decision: a significant part of the Russian troop contingent located in Syria is returning home to Russia,” he added.

Mr Putin said that if “terrorists raise their heads again”, Russia would “carry out such strikes on them which they have never seen”.

“We will never forget the victims and losses suffered in the fight against terror both here in Syria and also in Russia,” he said.

He told President Assad that Russia wanted to work with Iran, the government’s other key ally, and Turkey, which backs the opposition, to help bring peace to Syria.

Last week, Mr Putin announced the “total rout” of jihadist militants from so-called Islamic State (IS) along the Euphrates river valley in eastern Syria.
Russia launched an air campaign in Syria in September 2015 with the aim of “stabilising” Mr Assad’s government after a series of defeats.

Officials in Moscow stressed that it would target only “terrorists”, but activists said its strikes mainly hit mainstream rebel fighters and civilians.

The campaign has allowed pro-government forces to break the deadlock on several key battlefronts, most notably in Aleppo.

The Syrian and Russian air forces carried out daily air strikes on the rebel-held east of the city before it fell in December 2016, killing hundreds of people and destroying hospitals, schools and markets, according to UN human rights investigators.

Moscow has consistently denied that its air strikes have caused any civilian deaths.

However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Sunday that Russian air strikes had killed 6,328 civilians , including 1,537 children.

The UK-based monitoring group has documented the deaths of 346,612 people in total since the start of the uprising against Mr Assad in 2011.

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US Jerusalem move: Fury spreads from Jakarta to Rabat

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AL JAZEERA — A wave of anger against a US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has spread from Asia, through the Middle East, to North Africa, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets to denounce the controversial move.

Protesters filled central avenues and squares in a number of major international cities on Sunday, waving the flag of Palestine and shouting slogans to express their solidarity with the Palestinians, who see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

US President Donald Trump’s announcement on Wednesday drew near-universal condemnation from world leaders and inflamed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, with violence flaring up in the occupied Palestinian territories for a fifth day.

According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, 157 people were injured on Sunday in confrontations with Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza.

At least four Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the US declaration.
Clashes also erupted on Sunday at a protest in Beirut, where demonstrators fought with security forces outside the US embassy in the Lebanese capital.

Demonstrators set fires in the street, torched US and Israeli flags and threw stones at police officers, who responded with tear gas and water cannon.

Adnan Abdullah, a protester in Beirut, said Trump’s Jerusalem decision “will not happen as long as there are people like us”.

Another demonstrator, whose face was hidden behind a black mask, held up a tear gas canister and condemned Lebanese forces for “defending America”.

He went on to add, “There is no one by our side. None of the Arab countries. Oh God, we will raise the Palestinian flag”

Arab foreign ministers, in a resolution on Sunday, urged Trump to rescind the decision and have called for a UN Security Council condemnation of the shift in US policy.

Meanwhile, more than 5,000 Indonesians rallied outside the US embassy in Jakarta to vent their anger for a second day. Protesters carried Palestinian flags and banners saying “Pray for Palestine”.

“We are not satisfied with just official statements,” said Nurjannah Nurwani, one of the lead organisers of the gathering. “We need follow-up, international lobbying which could pressure them into withdrawing their decision.”

Another female protester in Jakarta urged Trump to “use his brain” and “withdraw from Jerusalem”.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has condemned Trump’s decision. On Thursday, he ordered the US ambassador in Jakarta to be summoned over the move.

In Turkey’s Istanbul, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets again, transforming the city’s Yenikapi Square into a sea of Turkish and Palestinian flags.

“I feel like I should defend Palestine because I don’t know any other way to defend them,” said Ananda Sereka, who was at the protest. “So this is what I can do. This is the least I can do.”

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, one of the most vocal critics of Trump’s move, has called the declaration “null and void” and vowed to fight it.

He has also called a summit of Islamic countries to discuss the move on Wednesday.

In Rabat, Morocco’s capital, protesters yelled slurs against Trump and carried banners saying Jerusalem belonged to Palestine.

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Rabat, said the protest was “a show of solidarity with the Palestinian people but also an opportunity to express anger” over Trump’s decision.

“The protesters came from all walks of life,” he said. “Government officials, members of the opposition, seculars and conservatives – all denouncing what they consider to be a decision that could destabilise the region.”

Mohamed Boussaid, Morocco’s finance minister, said the demonstration was a way “to express our indignation and un-satisfaction” and to show that “we refuse completely the decision taken by the president of the US”.

Protester Mohamed Alghram agreed.

“We totally reject the decision that targets the most sacred place for us and we say no,” he said. “Jerusalem is a red line.”

Jerusalem is home to Islam’s third holiest site and its status is deeply sensitive for Muslims.

In Indian-administered Kashmir, protesters took a different approach.

Residents of the capital Srinagar, home to 1.1 million people, closed their shops and abandoned the streets in protest. Salman Khan, a Srinagar resident, told the ANI news agency that Trump’s decision was “completely unjust”.

Muslim solidarity with Palestine also spread to the war-torn nations of Yemen and Syria.

Further protests were held in Egypt, where students and professors demonstrated at the Al-Azhar university.

In Pakistan’s Karachi, hundreds of protesters marched towards the US Consulate in the city, but were turned back by riot police.

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Erdogan: Israel a ‘terrorist state’ that kills children

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President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has described Israel as a “terror state,” while urging leaders of Arab countries to act following U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“Israel is a state of occupation and a terror state,” Erdoğan said in a speech in the Central Anatolian province of Sivas on Dec. 10, vowing that Turkey “will not leave Jerusalem to the consciousness of a child-killer state.”

“Jerusalem is the light of our eyes. We won’t leave it to the conscience of a state that only values occupation and looting. We will continue our struggle decisively within the law and democracy,” he added.

On Dec. 6, Trump announced the U.S.’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided” capital, saying the U.S. Embassy would relocate from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in a dramatic shift in Washington’s Jerusalem policy.

While demonstrations in the occupied Palestinian territories, Turkey and other Muslim-majority countries have been ongoing since the recognition, Erdoğan has been one of the most vocal leaders to slam Washington’s move.

“Palestine is oppressed and a victim. Israel is absolutely a state of occupation. Israel has never recognized any decision adopted concerning it, especially United Nations decisions, and it will never do so,” Erdoğan said, also presenting a series of maps showing how Israel has expanded its borders by occupying Palestinian territories since 1947.

“Look at this scene, do you see this treachery?” he said, pointing to Israeli expansion.

Erdoğan also showed a picture of a 14-year-old blindfolded Palestinian boy surrounded by Israeli soldiers.

“Look at how these terrorists are dragging a 14-year-old blindfolded child,” he said, describing Trump’s statement on Jerusalem as “null and void” for Turkey.

“We will continue to stand with the oppressed. We will use every opportunity we have for our first qibla, Jerusalem. We’ve been carrying out intense phone diplomacy since the dire decision of the U.S. I’ve held phone calls with the heads of many governments and states, including the Pope. We’ve told them that this issue is not one that only concerns Muslims; it is also the seizure of the rights of Christians. But I must say clearly that this step of the U.S. is completely an Evangelist understanding,” he added.

An extraordinary meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is scheduled to be held in Istanbul on Dec. 13, hosting the leaders of Muslim-majority countries.

“With the roadmap that we will determine [at the OIC meeting], we will show that the realization of this decision [moving of the embassy] will not be easy at all,” he added.

Earlier on, Erdoğan urged Arab leaders and Muslim countries to present a “united stance” on the issue.

“The Arab League will be present at the meeting on Dec. 13. Its term president, Jordanian King Abdullah II, thinks the same as us. Islamic countries must present a united stance on this issue,” he said.

“The dividedness and internal problems of the Islamic world have made it easier for the U.S. to adopt such a decision. What’s happening in Iraq and Syria are also out in the open. Libya, Egypt and Yemen are also experiencing serious problems. This Jerusalem step shows how some have been taking advantage of this situation. We need to be vigilant as Muslims,” Erdoğan added.

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