Kuwait requests UNSC meet – Turkey: US shares blame – Arab League: US move ‘immoral’

JERUSALEM: US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin claps as US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka unveils an inauguration plaque during the opening of the US embassy yesterday. — AFP

JERUSALEM: Israeli forces killed 52 Palestinians on the Gaza border in the conflict’s bloodiest day in years yesterday as clashes and protests coincided with the deeply controversial opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. The clashes, which left more than 2,400 Palestinians wounded, erupted before a White House delegation and Israeli officials opened the embassy at an inauguration ceremony in Jerusalem and continued throughout the day.

It was the bloodiest day in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since a 2014 Gaza war. The dead included eight children under the age of 16, according to the Palestinian envoy to the United Nations. The Gazan health ministry provided the overall death and injury toll. Kuwait has requested an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council today, the country’s mission to the UN said yesterday. “We condemned what has happened,” Kuwaiti ambassador to the United Nations Mansour Al-Otaibi told journalists. Kuwait is a non-permanent council member.

The White House said yesterday that Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas were to blame. “The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas,” White House spokesman Raj Shah told reporters. “Hamas is intentionally and cynically provoking this response,” he said, adding: “Israel has the right to defend itself.” Tens of thousands had gathered near the border in protest while smaller numbers of stone-throwing Palestinians approached the fence and sought to break through, with Israeli snipers positioned on the other side.

The embassy inauguration nonetheless went on as planned, attended by a Washington delegation that included US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, both White House aides. Ivanka Trump helped declare the new embassy open and a plaque and seal were unveiled before the 800 guests at the ceremony. Kushner said it was possible for both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to gain more than give in any peace deal. “Jerusalem must remain a city that brings people of all faiths together,” he said in a speech.

Trump addressed the ceremony by video. “Our greatest hope is for peace,” he said despite the Palestinian anger the move has provoked. “The United States remains fully committed to facilitating a lasting peace agreement.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Trump in his address that “by recognizing history you have made history”, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, in a statement yesterday, accused the United States of “blatant violations of international law”. “Choosing a tragic day in Palestinian history (to open the Jerusalem embassy) shows great insensibility and disrespect for the core principles of the peace process,” Hamdallah wrote.

Along the Gaza border, crowds built throughout the day in the Palestinian enclave less than 100 km away from Jerusalem and sealed off from Israel by a blockade. Israel’s military said 40,000 Palestinians had taken part in the protests and clashes. “The rioters are hurling firebombs and explosive devices at the security fence and at (Israeli) troops and are burning tyres, throwing rocks and launching flaming objects with the intention of igniting fires in Israeli territory and harming (Israeli) troops.” The military also said one of its fighter jets had struck five targets at a Hamas training facility in Gaza. Earlier, a military plane and tank targeted two other Hamas posts in response to what it said was fire toward its forces by Hamas.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of “massacres”, while Amnesty International called the violence an “abhorrent violation” of human rights. Human Rights Watch denounced a “bloodbath”. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said “we expect all to act with utmost restraint to avoid further loss of life,” while British Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman urged “calm and restraint”. Netanyahu defended the use of force, saying “every country has the obligation to defend its borders.” Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus alleged “we have seen three different squads, fully equipped terrorist squads with weapons, trying to plant IEDs at the technical fence in three different locations”.

A senior Hamas leader, Khalil Al-Hayya, said at a border encampment that yesterday’s protest was timed to coincide with the “deplorable crime of moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem”. He said: “Our people went out today to respond to this new Zionist-American aggression, and to draw by their blood the map of their return.”

The inauguration followed Trump’s Dec 6 recognition of the disputed city as Israel’s capital. The ceremony took place at what until now had been a US consulate building in Jerusalem. Abbas said the new embassy was tantamount to “a new American settler outpost” in Jerusalem and that the United States “is no longer a mediator in the Middle East”. Police and the Israeli military deployed massively. Around 1,000 police officers were positioned around the embassy, while Israel’s army said it almost doubled the number of troops surrounding Gaza and in the occupied West Bank. Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a message to Gazans “we will protect our civilians with all our means and not enable the fence to be crossed”.

Israel occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognized by the international community. Beyond the disputed nature of Jerusalem, the date of the embassy move was also key. May 14 marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel. Today, Palestinians mark the “Nakba”, or catastrophe, commemorating the more than 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes in the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation. Palestinian protests are also planned for today.

The US has lost its role as mediator in the Middle East by moving its embassy, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in London yesterday. “With its latest step, America has chosen to be a part of the problem, not a solution, and lost its mediator role in the Middle East peace process,” Erdogan told the Chatham House international affairs think-tank. Moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was “very, very unfortunate”, he said, warning it would “increase tensions and ignite an even greater fire between communities”.

Erdogan urged the international community to “take swift action to put an end to Israel’s increasing aggression”, denouncing the embassy move as violating international law and United Nations resolutions. “The establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital is the only way for lasting peace and stability,” the Turkish leader said.
“The United States, unfortunately, took its place without complaint alongside the Israeli government in this massacre of civilians and became a party to this crime against humanity,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters in Ankara. “This is a vile massacre and we condemn it strongly,” he added. Yildirim said the events were “incompatible” with the US acting as a mediator or protector of world peace.

Thousands of protesters in Istanbul marched down Istiklal Street shouting slogans including “Israel’s capital is the White House”, responding to a call to protest from pro-government aid group IHH. Others yelled “Down with America, down with Israel” and some urged Turkey to close Israeli missions in the country, yelling: “Shut down the Zionist embassy.” “The world’s Muslims are up in arms against Israel’s actions which are backed by the Americans,” said Istanbul protester Sidika Aydin. Omer Faruk, a pensioner, added: “We want the Turkish government to cancel and suspend all the agreements with Israel. We also expect the government to be more careful in its future ties with Israel.”

The head of the Arab League said yesterday Palestinian deaths associated with the US moving its embassy to Jerusalem should be a warning to others considering a similar move. The Arab League will hold an extraordinary meeting to discuss the “illegal” embassy move, Egypt’s news agency MENA reported earlier yesterday, citing an Arab diplomat. Arab League Chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit called the move a “clear violation of international law”, MENA said. “The fall of Palestinian martyrs by the bullets of the Israeli occupation must ring an alarm … bell to any state that does not find anything wrong with the immoral and illegal stance that we are watching,” he said.

“It is shameful to see countries participating with the US and Israel in celebrating the former’s embassy move to occupied Jerusalem in a clear and grave violation of international law and (UN) Security Council resolutions,” said Aboul Gheit. “The opening of the American embassy in occupied Jerusalem represents a step of utmost gravity which I do not think the US administration realizes its real consequences in both the short and long term,” he added. The Arab league is expected to hold a meeting tomorrow at the level of permanent representatives “to counter the illegal decision taken by the United States of America to transfer its embassy to Jerusalem”, MENA reported. – Agencies