Israel braces for violent protests over Trump Jerusalem announcement

Bethlehem protesters burn pictures of Trump; Israel says troops are preparing for a planned ‘day of rage’ in the wake of Washington’s expected recognition of capital

Palestinian protesters burn pictures of US President Donald Trump at Bethlehem's Manger Square on December 5, 2017. (AFP Photo/Musa Al Shaer)
Palestinian protesters burn pictures of US President Donald Trump at Bethlehem's Manger Square on December 5, 2017. (AFP Photo/Musa Al Shaer)

Palestinians burned pictures of US President Donald Trump in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Tuesday night, as anger ramped up over an expected announcement by Trump Wednesday of US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Israeli troops girded for the possibility of violence.

The picture-burning protest came hours after Trump told the leaders of the Palestinian Authority and Jordan in phone calls that he intends to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, despite intense Arab and Muslim opposition to a move that would alter decades of US policy and risk potentially violent protests.

Trump is to publicly address the question of Jerusalem on Wednesday and US officials familiar with his planning said he would declare Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, though he would not order the embassy move immediately.

Palestinian factions have called for protests against the moves, which would de facto recognize Israeli sovereignty over the city despite Palestinian claims to part of it.

Israeli security services were preparing for the possibility of violence in the West Bank in light of Palestinian terrorist groups calling for demonstrations in response to US Trump’s expected moves.

Israeli border police forces patrol near the Western Wall on December 5, 2017. (AFP /THOMAS COEX)

There were no immediate reports of large troop call-ups or significant reinforcements to West Bank units.

Intelligence minister Yisrael Katz warned Tuesday that “violent protests would be a big mistake for the PA.”

“I suggest they don’t create security tensions and don’t lead down this road. We are ready for every possibility,” he said, according to the Ynet news website.

In a statement earlier Tuesday, Hamas called for Palestinians to “make Friday a day of rage against the occupation, rejecting moving the American embassy to Jerusalem and declaring it the capital of the Zionist entity.”

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh warned that a US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem and recognize the city as Israel’s capital would be a “dangerous escalation” that crosses “every red line.”

Political factions led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement also called for daily protest marches this week, starting Wednesday, and Fatah’s youth wing said “all options [are] open for defending Jerusalem.”

Israeli police clash with Palestinian protesters during a protest against metal detectors that were placed at gates to the Temple Mount, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on July 19, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

The US State Department on Tuesday ordered government employees to avoid Jerusalem’s Old City and the West Bank until further notice in anticipation of an outbreak of Palestinian violence over Trump’s upcoming announcements on Jerusalem.

Jerusalem’s Old City includes the holiest ground in Judaism. It is also home to Islam’s third-holiest shrine and major Christian sites, and forms the combustible center of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Any perceived harm to Muslim claims to the city has triggered volatile protests in the past, both in the Holy Land and across the Muslim world.

Within the Trump administration, officials on Tuesday were still debating the particulars of the president’s expected speech as they fielded a flood of warnings from allied governments.

As international pressure has mounted, officials have said Trump could try to limit the impact of anything he says on Jerusalem. Among the ideas under consideration: A Trump nod to Palestinian “aspirations” for a capital in East Jerusalem or his endorsement of a two-state solution to the conflict, something he hasn’t clearly given. The officials said it’s unclear if any of that might be included.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas listens while US President Donald Trump makes a statement for the press before a meeting at the Palace Hotel during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 2017, in New York. (AFP/Brendan Smialowski)

Majdi Khaldi, Abbas’ diplomatic adviser, said Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital could end Washington’s role as mediator.

“This would mean they decided, on their own, to distance themselves from efforts to make peace,” Khaldi told The Associated Press in perhaps the most sharply worded reaction by a Palestinian official. He said such recognition would lead the Palestinians to eliminate contacts with the United States.

Changing Jerusalem’s status would be “a stab in the back,” Husam Zomlot, the Palestinians’ chief delegate to Washington, told the AP.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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