Violent protests have broken out in the West Bank today after US President Donald Trump enraged the Middle East by recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Palestinians torched debris and hurled rocks towards Israeli troops who fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse a demonstration in Bethlehem. Medics said 31 people have been injured by Israeli army gunfire during clashes in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip with rallies underway in the cities of Nablus, Jenin and Ramallah. In Hebron and Al-Bireh, thousands of demonstrators marched with chants of 'Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Palestine', witnesses said.
It comes after Trump sparked fury with his White House announcement yesterday, which changed decades of American policy and sparked warnings from Hamas of a new intifada, or uprising, against Israel. Amid growing fears of fresh bloodshed in the region, the Islamist group said the President had 'opened the gates of hell' with his 'flagrant aggression' while a pro-Hezbollah newspaper in Lebanon has declared 'Death to America' on a front page showing a burning US flag.
This morning, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Trump of throwing the Middle East into a 'ring of fire' and compared him to a 'blender' stirring up trouble in the area. The Country's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the US 'has pulled the pin on a bomb ready to blow in the region.'
Russia said today that it viewed Trump's move with 'serious concern' and will criticise the new stance at the UN Security Council. Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson described the new stance as 'not helpful' while France rejected the 'unilateral' decision and Germany said Jerusalem's status could only be resolved on the basis of a two-state solution.But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Trump had 'bound himself forever' to the history of Jerusalem with his announcement and claimed other states are now considering following the U.S. lead. As spontaneous protests broke out in Gaza overnight, the Israeli military said it would deploy several battalions to the West Bank ahead of Friday, while other troops have been put on alert to address 'possible developments.'
Netanyahu said this morning that 'we are already in contact with other states that will make a similar recognition.' He says the 'time has come' and expressed confidence that others will follow suit and move their embassies to Jerusalem. Last night, he hailed the move as 'historic' and said any peace deal with the Palestinians must concede that Jerusalem is Israel's capital.
Meanwhile, the Israeli military said it will be deploying additional troops to the West Bank ahead of Friday, when mass Palestinian protests are anticipated in response to Trump's move. The army statement on Thursday says it will deploy several battalions to the territory while other troops have been put on alert to address 'possible developments.'
Palestinians went on strike across the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip on Thursday and protests are expected on Friday after midday prayers. This morning, two senior White House officials admitted Trump's move could temporarily derail the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. According to CNN, one of the unnamed sources said the President's peace team had not spoken to angry Palestinian officials since the announcement but that they were 'pretty sure' that 'derailment' of the peace process would be 'temporary'.
One official said: 'A lot of people put their heads into this decision to see how do we make this happen without at the same time throwing the peace process out of the window,' The second added: 'In terms of a moment where it could happen, where it could be the least disruptive at a moment in time, this is the moment. We know there will be some short term pain, but think it will help in the long run.'
In a speech in Washington, Trump said his announcement marked the beginning of a new approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But Hamas, which dominates the Gaza Strip, urged Arabs and Muslims to 'undermine the US interests in the region' and to 'shun Israel.' Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh said the Palestinian people 'know how to respond properly to the disregard of their feelings and sanctuaries.'
He added that the decision 'will not change the facts of history and geography.' President Trump recognised the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel's capital yesterday - a historic decision that overturns decades of US policy and risks triggering a fresh spasm of violence in the Middle East. 'Israel is a sovereign nation with the right like every other sovereign nation to determine its own capital,' the US leader declared from the White House. 'Acknowledging this as a fact is a necessary condition for achieving peace.'
'It is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,' Trump said, urging calm and 'the voices of tolerance to prevail over the purveyors of hate.' The declaration - met by fierce regional condemnation - ends seven decades of deliberate diplomatic ambiguity about the final status of a holy city vociferously claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians.
Although welcomed by Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a 'courageous and just decision,' Trump's move also left the already faltering peace process in deep doubt. Mahmud Abbas's Palestine Liberation Organization said Trump has destroyed the two-state solution, warning the United States could no longer hope to be a peace broker, while Hamas - the Palestinian Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip - said Trump's decision opens 'the gates of hell on US interests in the region.'
Making the announcement, Trump also kicked off the process of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. That makes good on a campaign promise dear to evangelical Christian and right wing Jewish voters - as well as donors - in what he said marked the start of a 'new approach' to solving the thorny Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Trump's predecessors - from Bill Clinton to George Bush - made similar campaign promises. But they quickly reneged upon taking office and assuming the burden of war and peace. Having taken office with no foreign policy experience and denouncing experts, Trump was determined to show his arrival in Washington spells the end of business as usual.
'Many presidents have said they want to do something and they didn't do it,' Trump said in the run-up to his historic address. 'Whether it's courage or they changed their mind, I can't tell you,' he said. 'I think it's long overdue.' The announcement leaves many angry US allies and leaders across the Middle East trying to find a measured response and hoping that the tinderbox region is not destined for yet another round of bloodshed.
Saudi Arabia's royal court, led by King Salman and his powerful son, today condemned the Trump administration's decision in a rare public rebuke by the royal court of their US ally. Saudi Arabia, a regional powerhouse that could help the White House push through a Middle East settlement, said on Thursday the kingdom had already warned against this step and 'continues to express its deep regret at the U.S. administration's decision,' describing it as 'unjustified and irresponsible.'
Trump's move puts the Sunni nation in a bind. The kingdom, particularly its powerful crown prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, enjoys close relations with Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Iraq's senior shi'ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani also joined the condemnation today. 'This decision is condemned and decried, it hurt the feelings of hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims,' said a statement from Sistani's office.
'But it won't change the reality that Jerusalem is an occupied land which should return to the sovereignty of its Palestinian owners no matter how long it takes,' it said, calling on the 'Umma', or Islamic nation, 'to combine its efforts that purpose.' Iraq's Foreign Ministry has also summoned the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad to hand him a memo protesting against Trump's decision.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban denounced Trump's decision as a 'reckless step' and said it will 'fan the flames of conflict in the entire world especially the Middle East'.
A Taliban statement to the media on Thursday says that with the decision, America exposed its 'colonialist face and declared enmity toward Islam as well as support for policy of occupation and colonisation of Muslim lands.'
The statement also called on Muslims world over and Islamic countries to back the 'oppressed Palestinian nation'. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, meanwhile, says his government is 'deeply concerned' over Trump's move which 'hurts the sentiments of the entire Islamic world.' US Embassies across much of the Middle East and parts of Africa have warned American citizens of possible protests as a result of Trump's decision.
The leaders of Muslim nations have deployed ever-harsher rhetoric to describe Trump's decision, dashing any hope of a muted response that would help avoid clashes. Turkey called the decision 'irresponsible' and illegal. In a frantic series of calls, the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the European Union, France, Germany and Turkey had warned Trump against the move. Pope Francis joined a list of leaders warning of a historic misstep.
'I cannot silence my deep concern over the situation that has emerged in recent days,' the pontiff said Wednesday. In Brussels, the EU's diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said Trump's stance could take the region 'backwards to even darker times'. 'President Trump's announcement on Jerusalem has a very worrying potential impact. It is a very fragile context and the announcement has the potential to send us backwards to even darker times than the ones we're already living in,' he said.
But this morning, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson responded to global criticism by saying that the U.S. President is merely recognising reality. Speaking in Vienna, he said the US would still support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict 'if that's the desire of the two parties.' He said Jerusalem's final status is still for Israelis and Palestinians to workout and that 'the whole world' wants a peace process.
Moving the US embassy will probably take years to implement, but the repercussions of Trump's decision preceded even his announcement. Hundreds of Palestinians burned US and Israeli flags as well as pictures of Trump in the Gaza Strip, while relatively small clashes erupted near the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron.
Palestinians called for three days of protests - or 'days of rage' - starting Wednesday. US government officials and their families were ordered to avoid Jerusalem's Old City and the West Bank, though the situation remained largely calm up until Trump's address. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday called for a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the main pan-Islamic body, in Istanbul next week to display joint action over Jerusalem.
Jordan and the Palestinians also called for an emergency meeting of the Arab League. Most of the international community does not formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, insisting the issue can only be resolved in negotiations - a point reiterated by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in the wake of Trump's decision.
Guterres implicitly criticized Trump, stressing his opposition to 'any unilateral measures that would jeopardize the prospect of peace.' But Trump insisted the move did not prejudge final talks, saying it simply reflected the reality that west Jerusalem is and will continue to be part of Israel under any settlement. 'This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do,' Trump said.
'Peace is never beyond the grasp of those willing to reach it,' said the US leader, who declared that 'this decision is not intended in any way to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace.' 'The United States would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides,' Trump said, as he announced that Vice President Mike Pence would travel to the region in the coming days.
Trump further stated that the United States was not taking a position on any 'final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders.' 'Those questions are up to the parties involved.'
Israel seized the largely Arab eastern sector of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it, claiming both sides of the city as its capital. The Palestinians want the eastern sector as the capital of their future state. Trump was pushed to act on the embassy as a result of a 1995 law, which stated that the city 'should be recognized as the capital of the state of Israel' and the US embassy be moved there.
A waiver has been invoked by successive US presidents, postponing the move on grounds of 'national security' once every six months, meaning the law has never taken effect. Several peace plans have unravelled in the past decades over the issue of how to divide sovereignty or oversee holy sites in Jerusalem.