Iran and Lebanon at forefront of fresh protests over Trump’s Jerusalem move

Hezbollah leader to address mass rally in Beirut’s southern suburbs; Abbas will hold talks with Egypt’s Sissi

People wave Palestinian flags during a protest gathering near the EU headquarters in Brussels on December 11, 2017. (John Thys/AFP)
People wave Palestinian flags during a protest gathering near the EU headquarters in Brussels on December 11, 2017. (John Thys/AFP)

A fifth day of angry protests was expected in the Middle East on Monday over US President Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas visited Cairo for crisis talks.

As near-universal criticism of Trump’s decision mounted, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks with EU foreign ministers in Brussels, declaring that the move, which he lauded as historic, “makes peace possible.”

Further protests were being planned for Lebanon and Iran as well as in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and Gaza. Protests in East Jerusalem have been mild, and protests in the West Bank lessened after Friday. Hamas, the terror group which rules Gaza, has been urging a new intifada.

The Lebanese terror group Hezbollah — which, like Hamas, seeks to destroy Israel — called for a demonstration in Beirut’s southern suburbs, with large crowds and a speech by the Shiite group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, expected in the afternoon.

Lebanese security forces fire tear gas to disperse protestors as a fire burns in a dumpster during a demonstration outside the US embassy in Awkar, on the outskirts of the Lebanese capital Beirut, on December 10, 2017. (AFP/ ANWAR AMRO)

A large turnout was also expected for a protest in Tehran.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday that Trump’s decision threw “fuel on the fire” of Middle Eastern tensions and would not be tolerated. The Iranian regime routinely calls for Israel’s destruction and funds Hamas and Hezbollah.

A protest was being organized in the afternoon in front of a US cultural center in East Jerusalem, while another was planned for Bethlehem in the West Bank.

In Ramallah on Monday, dozens of Palestinians threw stones at Israeli soldiers in the latest such clash.

Palestinian demonstrations have declined in number and intensity since reaching a peak on Friday, but there are concerns they will again increase later this week.

Four Palestinians have so far been killed in clashes or Israeli airstrikes in response to rocket fire from Gaza, while hundreds have been wounded. Hamas on Thursday had called for a new intifada against Israel, on Friday urged Palestinians to confront soldiers and settlers, and has allowed thousands of Gazans to confront Israeli troops at the Gaza border fence in recent days. Its leader Ismail Haniyeh on Friday praised the “blessed intifada,” urged the liberation of Jerusalem, and made plain the group was seeking to intensify violence against Israel.

Iranian protesters set a US flag on fire during a demonstration in the capital Tehran after the Friday noon prayers on December 8, 2017 to denounce US President Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. (AFP PHOTO / STR)

Tens of thousands have also demonstrated in a range of Middle Eastern and Muslim nations.

‘Rejected and denounced’

Palestinian leaders have been outraged by Trump’s move, but they also face difficult choices in how to respond, since they rely on US aid and say would like to salvage remaining hopes of a two-state solution to the conflict.

Abbas will refuse to meet with US Vice President Mike Pence when he visits the region later this month, Palestinian officials say, a move that led Washington to accuse the Palestinian leader of “walking away” from a chance to discuss peace.

Abbas was on Monday to hold talks with President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi in Egypt — a key US ally in the region — ahead of a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the main pan-Islamic body, on Wednesday.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II, right, welcomes Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Royal Palace in Amman on December 7, 2017. (AFP/ KHALIL MAZRAAWI)

“Our message to the entire world is that Jerusalem is a Palestinian city and the US decision is rejected and denounced,” Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said, quoted by official news agency WAFA.

“What is required now are bold Palestinian and Arab decisions for the coming stage, which is very important and very critical. The Palestinians and Arabs should stand together,” he added.

Netanyahu has lauded the US president’s declaration and called for other countries to follow suit.

On Monday, he was in Brussels as part of a two-day trip to Europe after having met French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris the previous day, with the visits having been planned before Trump’s declaration.

Macron urged Netanyahu to “show courage” and take measures to restart long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, including freezing settlement construction in the West Bank.

Netanyahu met EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, the first such talks with an Israeli premier in 22 years and after the bloc’s diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini warned Trump’s move could take the situation “backwards to even darker times.”

European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu address a media conference at the EU Council building in Brussels on Monday, December 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Netanyahu had a starkly different view.

“It doesn’t obviate peace, it makes peace possible, because recognizing reality is the substance of peace, it’s the foundation of peace,” Netanyahu said alongside Mogherini.

Mogherini said the “worst thing that can happen now is an escalation of tensions, of violence” and restated the EU’s position that a two-state solution with Jerusalem as capital for both Israelis and Palestinians was the only sustainable way to resolve the conflict.

Global condemnation

Trump’s Jerusalem declaration upended decades of precedent and broke with international consensus, drawing global condemnation.

Jerusalem’s status is one of the most sensitive issuse in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel sees the entire city as its undivided capital, while the Palestinians want the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) greets members of the Muslim community during his visit to Komotini, northeast Greece, on December 8, 2017.

In an address last Wednesday from the White House, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace a new approach was long overdue, describing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality.

The move was hailed by Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been perhaps the most outspoken in warning over the consequences of the move, while on Sunday he lashed out by calling Israel a “terrorist state” that “kills children.”

Netanyahu hit back, calling Erdogan a leader who “bombs Kurdish villagers” and “helps terrorists.”

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