Palestinians clash with army as Israel braces for Jerusalem backlash

08.12.2017

At least 80 Palestinians were wounded in clashes with the Israeli army on Thursday in the West Bank and Gaza, while the Hamas militant group called for a Palestinian uprising following U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The sudden clashes and protests gained momentum on Thursday afternoon as Palestinian and Arab leaders warned that violence and unrest could snowball following Trump's announcement. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent four Palestinians were injured in the Ramallah area and five in Bethlehem from rubber bullets.

Along the Gaza-Israel border, six were injured in clashes with army and one person is in critical condition, a spokesman for the Gaza health ministry said. An Israeli army spokeswoman said that the shots were fired upon a group of Palestinians who were throwing rocks, burning tyres and approaching the border fence.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in Jerusalem, throughout the West Bank and Gaza on Thursday, a day after Trump announced the change, upending decades of U.S. policy towards the holy city.

Palestinian youth threw stones and burnt tyres in some areas.

"Jerusalem will never be the capital of Israel, regardless of what Trump said," Jamal Muheisen, a senior member of the Fatah party, said at a rally in Ramallah.

A general strike was called by the Palestinian Authority (PA) government, closing all commercial centres, schools and public institutions. Meanwhile Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh issued a call for a renewed Palestinian uprising to start on Friday.

Thousands of Palestinians typically pray at the al-Aqsa mosque – the third holiest site in Islam – located in Jerusalem's Old City on Friday, making the area a flashpoint for violence.

The Israeli army said it has increased its forces in the West Bank "as part of the IDF's readiness to possible developments."

Israel also struck two Hamas posts in the Gaza Strip late on Thursday after a rocket fired from the coastal enclave exploded in southern Israel, the Israel Defence Force said.

"The IDF holds Hamas responsible for the hostile activity perpetrated against Israel from the Gaza Strip," the IDF tweeted.

In addition to the rocket that hit the south, the IDF said other "projectiles" had been fired at Israel over the course of Thursday but they fell short and landed in Gaza.

A series of protests were also held on Thursday in Jordan and Tunisia in solidarity with the Palestinians and against Trump's move. Students and academics gathered in several Jordanian universities chanting slogans emphasising the "Arab and Islamic identity" of Jerusalem, Jordanian newspaper al-Ghad reported online. Meanwhile, hundreds of people took to the streets in the Tunisian capital Tunis and other parts of the country in protest.

In the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City on Thursday shops were shuttered for the strike, as mostly tourists wandered the empty alleyways.

Ozama Shaif, 19, who works as a money changer in Jerusalem, said that Trump is determining the status of holy sites he has no authority over.

"I think this is not a good thing to do, because there's al-Aqsa and that's for U.S. and not for him," he said.

Both Israelis and Palestinians regard the holy city as their capital. Supposed Israeli domination of Jerusalem and its holy sites remains a rallying cry for Palestinians.

Pictures of Jerusalem's glittering Dome of the Rock, which covers the area from which the Prophet Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven, adorn homes, cafes and schools throughout the Palestinian Territories.

For Jews, Jerusalem is the place of the First and Second Temple, the most sacred site in Judaism. It's a place extolled in Jewish liturgy, as Jews prayed for their return to the ancient city after being exiled thousands of years ago.

Until Trump's decision, the U.S., along with the rest of the world, chose to keep its embassy in Tel Aviv in an effort to remain neutral in peace negotiations between the two sides. Israel captured the eastern half of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed the territory in a move that was not internationally recognised.

The city of more than 800,000 has remained in limbo ever since. Israel views all of Jerusalem as its "unified" capital while the PA government says that East Jerusalem, which contains the Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites and around 300,000 Palestinian residents, must be the capital of a future Palestinian state.    (dpa)

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