Saudi king slams Trump for transferring US embassy to Jerusalem
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Saudi king slams Trump for transferring US embassy to Jerusalem

At opening of Arab League summit, Salman says East Jerusalem is an ‘integral part’ of the Palestinian territories, denounces Iran for ‘blatant interference’ in other countries

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz at the 29th Summit of the Arab League at the Ithra center in Dhahran, Eastern Saudi Arabia, on April 15, 2018. (AFP/STR)
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz at the 29th Summit of the Arab League at the Ithra center in Dhahran, Eastern Saudi Arabia, on April 15, 2018. (AFP/STR)

DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Sunday opened an Arab League summit by criticizing US President Donald Trump’s decision to transfer the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“We reiterate our rejection of the US decision on Jerusalem,” the king said in a speech in Dhahran in eastern Saudi Arabia.

“East Jerusalem is an integral part of the Palestinian territories,” he added.

US President Donald Trump in December bucked decades of US foreign policy by formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and setting in motion plans to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv. The US has said the move would take place to coincide with Israel’s 70th birthday.

Israel marks its annual Independence Day — Yom Ha’Atzmaut — according to the Hebrew calendar date that this year falls on April 19. However, a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the embassy is being planned for mid-May, as the State of Israel proclaimed its independence on May 14, 1948.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, second from right, at the inauguration ceremony of the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 21, 2017. (Bandar Algaloud/Saudi Royal Council/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The announcement of the May opening for the embassy was welcomed by Israel and met with widespread anger among the Palestinians, prompting calls for enormous protest events, the largest of them planned for the Gaza Strip.

Expected protests will also coincide with Nakba Day, a national day of Palestinian mourning marking the “catastrophe” of Israel’s founding, commemorated every year on May 15.

Salman also announced on a $150 million donation for the maintenance of Islamic heritage in East Jerusalem.

“Saudi Arabia announces $150 million grant to support the administration of Jerusalem’s Islamic property,” the king told the Arab League meeting.

Two weeks ago, Salman reaffirmed his nation’s support for the Palestinians in a conversation with Trump, Saudi state media said, a day after his son and heir apparent said Israel has a “right” to a homeland.

Saudi Arabia and Israel have no formal diplomatic relations, but behind the scenes their ties appear to have improved in recent years in the face of what they see as a common Iranian threat.

Speaking at Sunday’s summit, Salman also blasted Iran’s “blatant interference” in regional affairs.

“We renew our strong condemnation of Iran’s terrorist acts in the Arab region and reject its blatant interference in the affairs of Arab countries,” the king said.

Despite ostensible agreement over Iran, Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians has long proved an obstacle to a full rapprochement with Saudi Arabia.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, however, seemed to indicate a notable shift in the kingdom’s official position in an interview published April 2 with US news magazine The Atlantic.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, crown prince of Saudi Arabia, attends a meeting at the United Nations in New York, March 27, 2018. (Bryan R. Smith/AFP)

The prince was asked by the magazine whether the “Jewish people have a right to a nation-state in at least part of their ancestral homeland?”

“I believe that each people, anywhere, has a right to live in their peaceful nation,” said the prince, who is on a three-week US tour.

“I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land,” he added.

In keeping with the terms of his kingdom’s regional peace proposal, the Saudi crown prince added that an agreement with the Palestinians was a prerequisite to formal relations. “But we have to have a peace agreement to assure the stability for everyone and to have normal relations,” he said.

Since 2002, Saudi Arabia has been the main sponsor of the Arab Peace Initiative, which sees a peace treaty between Israelis and Palestinians as a condition for normalization with the entire Arab and Muslim world.

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