Large crowds of worshippers across the Muslim world staged anti-U.S. marches Friday, some stomping on posters of Donald Trump or burning American flags, in the largest outpouring of anger yet at the U.S. president’s recognition of bitterly contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
In the holy city itself, prayers at Islam’s third-holiest site dispersed largely without incident, but Palestinians clashed with Israeli troops in several dozen West Bank hotspots and on the border with the Gaza Strip.
A 30-year-old Gaza man was killed by Israeli gunfire, the first death of a protester since Trump’s dramatic midweek announcement. Two Palestinians were seriously wounded, health officials said.
Dozens of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza were hit by live rounds of rubber-coated steel or inhaled tear gas, the officials said.
Later Friday, the Israeli military said its Iron Dome missile-defence system intercepted a rocket fired from Gaza into southern Israel, but no injuries were reported.
Trump’s pivot on Jerusalem triggered warnings from U.S. friends and foes alike that he is needlessly stirring more conflict in an already volatile region.
The religious and political dispute over Jerusalem forms the emotional core of the Israeli-Arab conflict. The ancient city is home to major Muslim, Jewish and Christian shrines and looms large in the competing national narratives of Israelis and Palestinians.
Trump’s decision on Jerusalem is widely seen in the region as a blatant expression of pro-Israel bias, but it was unclear if protests and confrontations would maintain momentum after Friday.
More extensive violence has erupted in the Palestinian areas in the past, including deadly bloodshed triggered by disputes over Jerusalem.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement and other groups had called for three “days of rage” this week. However, Abbas remains an opponent of violence, saying it’s counterproductive and that he might at some point order his security forces to contain protests.
Israeli police outside of Damascus Gate in #Jerusalem – as thousands of #Palestinians demonstrate against @realDonaldTrump recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. #cbc pic.twitter.com/ojWh5ttp7z
— Derek Stoffel (@DerekStoffelCBC) December 8, 2017
Separately, Fatah’s rival, the Gaza-based Islamic militant Hamas, called this week for a third uprising against Israel, but such appeals have fizzled as Palestinians become more disillusioned with their leaders.
Protests around the globe
Abbas said in a statement Friday the U.S. cannot broker the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as a result of this week’s announcement.
“We reject the American decision over Jerusalem. With this position the United States has become no longer qualified to sponsor the peace process,” Abbas said. He did not elaborate further.
On Friday, demonstrators in the West Bank torched heaps of tires, sending columns of thick black smoke rising over the cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem. Palestinian stone-throwers traded volleys in the streets with soldiers firing tear gas and rubber bullets.
Along the Gaza-Israel border fence, Israeli troops fired at stone-throwers.
Across the world — from Asia’s Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan to North Africa’s Algeria and Tunisia, Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula and adjacent to Israel in Lebanon and Jordan — thousands poured into streets to voice their anger. Some protesters burned U.S. and Israeli flags or stomped Trump posters that showed the president alongside a Nazi swastika.
In Jordan’s capital of Amman, thousands marched through the centre of town, chanting “America is the head of the snake.”
Pro-Western Jordan is a crucial U.S. ally in the fight against Islamic extremists, but King Abdullah II cannot afford to be seen as soft on Jerusalem.
His Hashemite dynasty derives its legitimacy from its role as guardian of the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Islam’s third-holiest site.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council was meeting Friday in response to the latest developments and a formal request from France, Sweden, Bolivia, Uruguay, Italy, Senegal and Egypt.
Embassy move years away
UN Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov told an emergency session of the UN Security Council that Trump’s announcement created a “serious risk” of a chain of unilateral actions that would push the goal of peace further away.
The U.S. ambassador, Nikki Haley, told the council that the Trump administration is more committed to peace “than we’ve ever been before — and we believe we might be closer to that goal than ever before.” She did not explain.
In Europe, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday played down the impact of Trump’s policy shift, which also included a pledge to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Tillerson said it will likely take years for the U.S. to open an embassy in Jerusalem.
In a news conference with the French foreign minister, Tillerson said Trump’s recognition of the city as Israel’s capital “did not indicate any final status for Jerusalem.”
The United States is making clear that Jerusalem’s borders will be left to Israelis and Palestinians to “negotiate and decide,” he said.
Most countries around the world have not recognized Israel’s 1967 annexation of east Jerusalem and maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv. Under a longstanding international consensus, the fate of the city is to be determined in negotiations.
The Arab League, an umbrella group of close to two dozen states, is to meet Saturday to try to forge a joint position, followed next week by a gathering in Turkey of the 57-state Organization of Islamic Cooperation.