Women react as an Israeli mounted policeman disperses Palestinian protesters on December 9, 2017, in East Jerusalem. Retaliatory Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip killed two Hamas militants, as unrest simmered across the Palestinian territories over US President Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. AFP

RAMALLAH: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will refuse to meet US Vice President Mike Pence later this month following Washington’s controversial policy shift on Jerusalem, an Abbas aide said yesterday, as protests gripped the Palestinian territories for a third straight day. Retaliatory Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip killed two Hamas militants before dawn, as unrest simmered over President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Wednesday.
Four people have been killed and dozens wounded since Trump announced the move, which drew criticism from every other member of the UN Security Council at an emergency meeting on Friday. “There will be no meeting with the vice president of America in Palestine,” Abbas’ diplomatic adviser Majdi Al-Khaldi told AFP. “The United States has crossed all the red lines with the Jerusalem decision,” he added.

Egypt’s Coptic Pope Tawadros II also cancelled a meeting with Pence, with the church saying it “declines to receive” him in protest at Trump’s announcement which failed to take into account the “feelings of millions” of Arabs. That decision came a day after Ahmed Al-Tayeb who heads Al-Azhar, Egypt’s top Sunni Muslim institution, also scrapped plans to meet the US vice president over the “unjust and unfair American decision on Jerusalem”.

There were fresh clashes yesterday as Palestinian protesters in the occupied West Bank hurled stones at Israeli troops, who responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds. In the Gaza Strip, mourners vented their anger at the funerals of two people killed by Israeli troops during clashes at the border fence on Friday and the two Hamas militants killed early on Saturday.

An Israeli army statement said “violent riots have erupted at approximately 20 locations” in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip” with protesters throwing rocks, petrol bombs and rolling burning tyres at troops. It said soldiers responded with unspecified “riot dispersal means”, lightly wounding three Palestinians. In Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, police fired stun grenades to disperse Palestinian demonstrators on the main Salahedin street, an AFP cameraman said. A police statement said two policemen were slightly injured and six protesters arrested. The Palestinian Red Crescent said 12 Palestinians were injured by shrapnel from grenades or by blows from police.

There have been fears of a much larger escalation of violence after Hamas leader Ismail Haniya called for a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising. Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad militant group both renewed that call yesterday. Dozens of protesters were wounded by rubber bullets or live fire in clashes in the occupied West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem that followed the main weekly Muslim prayers on Friday. Tens of thousands also protested in Muslim and Arab countries, including Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia.

North Korea meanwhile lambasted Trump for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, renewing its description of him as a “dotard” in a statement released yesterday on state media. Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un have traded threats of war and personal insults in recent months as tensions remain high over the North’s missile and nuclear threats.
Now the hermit state has joined near-universal condemnation of the US president’s decision on Jerusalem, calling it a “reckless, wicked act”. “Considering the fact that the mentally deranged dotard openly called for a total destruction of a sovereign state at the UN, this action is not so surprising”, a foreign ministry spokesman was quoted as saying by the state-run KCNA news agency. “But this move clearly shows to the whole world who is the destroyer of world peace and security, pariah and rogue in the international community”, he said, using epithets usually reserved for the North.

According to the latest KCNA statement, the North “strongly condemns” the US move to recognise Jerusalem as capital, and expressed “firm support and solidarity for Palestinians and Arab peoples struggling to win their legitimate rights”. “The US will be held accountable for all consequences from this reckless, wicked act”, it added.

Yesterday’s pre-dawn air strike on a base of Hamas’s military wing in Nusseirat, in the central Gaza Strip, was one of several, the Israeli military said. A statement said the air force “targeted four facilities belonging to the Hamas terror organization” in Gaza a day after three rocket attacks from the Palestinian enclave into southern Israel. One rocket hit the southern Israeli town of Sderot although Israeli public radio said it did not explode and did not cause any casualties.

Israel had already responded on Friday night to the first two rockets with air strikes in which the Gaza health ministry said 14 people were wounded, among them women and children. In an Arabic-language Facebook post yesterday, a senior Israeli military officer delivered a stern warning to the people of Gaza. “Continued fire will result in a harsh and painful response from the Israel Defence Forces, so do not test our strength,” wrote Major General Yoav Mordechai, head of the defence ministry agency responsible for civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories. The Hamas health ministry in Gaza said the two men killed in yesterday’s strikes were members of the movement’s armed wing, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2008.

Trump’s decision drew lavish praise from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but has sparked a worldwide diplomatic backlash. Five European countries on the Security Council insisted the new US policy was inconsistent with past resolutions, including one that declares east Jerusalem to be Israeli-occupied. The meeting was requested by eight of the council’s 15 members but was largely symbolic as no vote on a resolution was planned because the US wields veto power.

Trump said his defiant move – making good on a 2016 presidential campaign pledge – marked the start of a “new approach” to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The decision is likely to impact domestic Palestinian politics, particularly between Abbas’s Fatah and the Islamist Hamas, after a decade of bitter enmity now at a key stage in a fragile reconciliation process. Abbas “will soon take a harder line toward the peace process and a softer line toward Hamas than he otherwise would have,” wrote Ghaith Al-Omari of the Washington Institute of Near East Policy.

Hamas, which violently seized Gaza from Fatah in 2017, is due to formally hand back power today. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said in a statement yesterday that the group “reiterated its commitment to all that has been signed and agreed upon and the completion of the handover”. – Agencies