US bars diplomatic staff from Old City, West Bank amid Jerusalem tensions

US bars diplomatic staff from Old City, West Bank amid Jerusalem tensions

Fatah, Hamas urge Palestinians to rage against Trump's expected recognition of Israel's capital

Israeli flags flutter in the wind as the Dome of the Rock is seen in the background, in Jerusalem's Old City, on December 5, 2017.(AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)
Israeli flags flutter in the wind as the Dome of the Rock is seen in the background, in Jerusalem's Old City, on December 5, 2017.(AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)

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 US President Donald Trump’s upcoming announcements on Jerusalem.

The warning came as the Hamas terrorist group and the rival Fatah faction vowed to protest Trump’s expected recognition of Israel’s capital. Hamas also called for a “day of rage” Friday in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

“With widespread calls for demonstrations beginning December 6 in Jerusalem and the West Bank, US government employees and their family members are not permitted until further notice to conduct personal travel in Jerusalem’s Old City and in the West Bank,” an advisory from the US State Department said.

“Official travel by US government employees in Jerusalem’s Old City and in the West Bank is permitted only to conduct essential travel and with additional security measures,” it added.

The warning also urged American citizens to avoid large crowds or areas with increased police or military presence.

US officials familiar with planning for a possible announcement on Jerusalem said they expect Trump to speak to the matter around midday Wednesday, although the specifics of what he will say were still being debated. The officials, along with an outside adviser to the administration, said they expected Trump would make a generic statement about Jerusalem’s status as the “capital of Israel.”

They said they did not expect the president to use the phrase “undivided capital,” which would imply Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem, which is not recognized by the United Nations.

They also said Trump planned to sign a waiver delaying for another six months a US legal requirement to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But, they said Trump would likely give wide latitude to David Friedman, the US Ambassador to Israel, to make a determination on when such a move would be appropriate. Friedman has spoken in favor of the move.

The issuance of the travel warning came as Hamas called for a “day of rage” on Friday in response to Trump’s expected decision.

In a statement, 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 Tuesday 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.”

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh greets supporters during a rally to commemorate the 27th anniversary of the Hamas militant group in Jebaliya in the northern Gaza Strip, December 12, 2014 . (AP/Adel Hana)

“The American administration’s recognition of occupied Jerusalem as the occupation’s capital and moving its embassy to Jerusalem crosses every red line,” Haniyeh said in a letter to Arab and Muslim world leaders.

“Moving the American embassy to Jerusalem is a dangerous escalation and provides cover for the extremist government of (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu to carry out its plan to Judaize the city of Jerusalem.”

Political factions led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ 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.”

This file photo taken on January 11, 2010, shows an aerial view of Jerusalem’s Old City. (AFP Photo/AFP Files/Marina Passos)

Fearing the possibility of violence at its embassies abroad if Trump goes ahead with the move, the State Department sent at least two classified cables to embassies and consulates warning them of potential danger and advising they ramp up security, the Politico news site reported Monday.

Israeli defense officials are also bracing for violent protests and terror attacks, with the Israel Police, Shin Bet security service and the IDF’s Central Command holding meetings in recent days to review possible scenarios in the event Trump follows through on his campaign promise to change America’s policy on Israel’s capital, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Tuesday.

Ahead of Wednesday’s announcement, Trump phoned Middle East leaders to signal the US embassy move to the holy city would go ahead.

Amid a frantic round of telephone diplomacy, Trump told Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah on Tuesday of his “intention” to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, but crucially did not give a time-frame. He also spoke to the Egyptian and Saudi leaders.

US President Donald Trump (L) is welcomed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. (Thomas Coex/AFP)

Trump’s calls came with Palestinian and Arab leaders warning that US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would ruin Trump’s efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

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