Most foreign envoys absent as Israel, U.S. launch embassy festivities

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claps after handing U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman a letter of appreciation, during a reception held at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, ahead of the moving of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Ori Lewis

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel launched celebrations on Sunday for the U.S. Embassy’s relocation to Jerusalem, a move whose break with world consensus was underscored by the absence of most envoys to the country from a reception hosted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Monday’s slated opening of the new embassy follows U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition in December of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a decision he said fulfilled decades of policy pledges in Washington and formalized realities on the ground.

The Palestinians, who want their own future state with its capital in east Jerusalem, have been outraged by Trump’s shift from previous administrations’ preference for keeping the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv pending progress in peace efforts.

Those talks have been frozen since 2014. Other major powers worry that the U.S. move could inflame Palestinian unrest in the occupied West Bank and on the Gaza Strip border, where Israel reinforced troops in anticipation of the embassy opening.

Most countries say Jerusalem’s status should be determined in a final peace settlement, and say moving their embassies now would prejudge any such deal.

Senior White House Advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump attend a reception held at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem ahead of the moving of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Senior White House Advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump attend a reception held at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem ahead of the moving of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Addressing dignitaries at the Foreign Ministry, including U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the president’s daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the Israeli prime minister urged others to follow Washington’s lead.

“Move your embassies to Jerusalem because it’s the right thing to do,” Netanyahu said. “Move your embassies to Jerusalem because it advances peace, and that’s because you can’t base peace on a foundation of lies.”

Netanyahu said that “under any peace agreement you could possibly imagine, Jerusalem will remain Israel’s capital”.

Jerusalem, which is sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, was decorated with roadside flowerbeds in the design of the U.S. flag and posters reading “Trump make Israel great again”.

“Tragically, the U.S. administration has chosen to side with Israel’s exclusivist claims over a city that has for centuries been sacred to all faiths,” the general delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation to the United States said.

The U.S. Embassy move “gives life to a religious conflict instead of a dignified peace,” it said in a statement.

Israel said all 86 countries with diplomatic missions in Israel were invited to the event, and 33 confirmed attendance. Among those present were delegates from Guatemala and Paraguay, which will open their own Jerusalem embassies later this month.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks during a reception held at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, ahead of the moving of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks during a reception held at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, ahead of the moving of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

EUROPEAN RIFT

Attending the Foreign Ministry gathering were representatives from Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic, but none from western European Union states – suggesting a rift within the bloc over Trump’s Jerusalem move.

No-show nations withheld comment on Sunday.

The EU mission in Israel tweeted on Friday that the bloc would “respect the international consensus on Jerusalem … including on the location of their diplomatic representations until the final status of Jerusalem is resolved”.

Outside Jerusalem’s ancient Damascus Gate, Israelis danced in another celebration on Sunday, marking the capture of the Old City from Arab forces in the 1967 Middle East War.

Hundreds of Israeli rightists entered Al Aqsa mosque compound, an icon of Palestinian nationalism and a vestige of ancient Jewish temples. Witnesses said some prostrated themselves in Jewish prayer, violating religious restrictions at the site and sparking scuffles with Muslim worshippers.

Israeli police said several people were forcibly removed and questioned.

The U.S. Treasury secretary called the embassy relocation “a sign of the enduring friendship and partnership between our two countries” and also referred to the U.S. withdrawal last week from the Iran nuclear deal, a move welcomed by Israel and some U.S. Arab allies in the Gulf but lamented by other world powers.

The Palestinians plan to demonstrate against Monday’s inauguration from Arab districts abutting the Jerusalem site.

On the border with Gaza, Palestinians have also held protests as Israel prepares to mark 70 years since its creation, an event Palestinians call the Nakba, or Catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands of them were displaced from their homes.

More than 40 Palestinians have been killed in the latest violence.

In a recorded speech released on Sunday, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri criticized Trump’s decision on the embassy, as well as the leaders of Muslim countries he said had sold out the Palestinians. He also said Israel’s Tel Aviv was Muslim land.

The Trump administration has sought to keep the door open to Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy by saying the embassy move did not aim to prejudge Jerusalem’s final borders. The U.S. consulate in the city, tasked with handling Palestinian ties, will remain.

Washington has not asked Israel to initiate peace moves in exchange for the embassy relocation, U.S. Ambassador David Friedman told reporters on Friday: “There was no give and take with Israel with regard to this decision.”

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Warren Strobel in Washington; Editing by Edmund Blair and Daniel Wallis)

Israeli fire kills one Palestinian, wounds 170 in border protest-Gaza medics

A demonstrator uses a racket to return a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops during a protest where Palestinians demand the right to return to their homeland, at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip, May 11, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli troops killed one Palestinian and wounded at least 170 protesters in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian medical workers said, bringing to 44 the number killed during a six-week protest at the Gaza-Israel border.

The man killed was protesting east of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, said medics, who said that seven other people were critically injured, including a 16-year-old youth who was shot in the face.

Organizers of the protest, called the “Great March of Return,” said they expected tens of thousands of Gazans at tented border encampments in the coming days.

The protests peak on Fridays and are building to a climax on May 15, the day Palestinians call the “Nakba” or “Catastrophe”, marking the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the conflict surrounding the creation of Israel in 1948.

Witnesses said Israeli soldiers used a drone to down flaming kites that protesters flew over the border in a bid to torch bushes and distract snipers.

A report by the aid charity Save the Children, published on Friday, said that at least 250 Gazan children had been hit with live bullets during the protests, among nearly 700 children injured overall. The analysis was based on data collected by the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza.

Israel has been criticized by human rights groups for its lethal response to the protests. The Israeli military said on Friday its troops were defending the border and “firing in accordance with the rules of engagement”.

Protesters were “violent, burning tires and hurling rocks,” it said in a statement. Israel’s military “will not allow any harm to the security infrastructure or security fence and will continue standing by its mission to defend and ensure the security of the citizens of Israel and Israeli sovereignty, as necessary.”

The Gaza Strip, home to 2 million people, is run by the Islamist group Hamas which has fought three wars against Israel in the past decade. Israel and Egypt maintain an economic blockade of the strip, which has the highest unemployment rate in the world and has become far poorer than the other main Palestinian territory, the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

A Palestinian woman drops tyres to be burnt at the Israel-Gaza border during a protest where Palestinians demand the right to return to their homeland, in the southern Gaza Strip May 11, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

A Palestinian woman drops tyres to be burnt at the Israel-Gaza border during a protest where Palestinians demand the right to return to their homeland, in the southern Gaza Strip May 11, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

On Thursday in Gaza, Hamas leader Yehya Al-Sinwar described the protests as peaceful, and said: “We hope these incidents will pass without a large number of martyrs and wounded, and the occupation forces must restrain themselves.”

Samir, a refugee whose grandfather originally came from Jaffa, which now lies 40 miles up the coast in Israel, rolled tires toward the area close to the fence where he later burned them.

“My grandfather told me about Jaffa, where he came from, he said it was the bride of the sea, the most beautiful of all. I want to go back to Jaffa,” he said.

“Killing me will not change anything, Jaffa will remain Jaffa. They need to kill every last one of us to change the facts.”

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Catherine Evans and Peter Graff)

Israeli gunfire wounds 40 Palestinians in renewed Gaza border protest: medics

A Palestinian passes burning tires during clashes with Israeli troops at a protest demanding the right to return to their homeland, at the Israel-Gaza border east of Gaza City April 6, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA BORDER (Reuters) – Israeli forces shot and wounded at least 40 Palestinian protesters on Friday, Palestinian medics said, as thousands converged on Gaza’s border with Israel and set fire to mounds of tires to launch a second week of demonstrations.

Twenty Palestinians have died since the demonstrations near the heavily guarded Gaza border fence began on March 30, the latest a man who died in a Gaza hospital on Friday of gunshot wounds suffered on the first day of protests.

Five of Friday’s 40 wounded were in critical condition, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Palestinian tent encampments have sprung up a few hundred meters (yards) back from the 65-km (40-mile) frontier but groups of youths have ventured much closer, rolling tyres and throwing stones towards Israeli troops.

The demonstrators are pressing for a right of return to what is now Israel for refugees – and their descendants – from the 1948 war surrounding the country’s creation. Refugees comprise most of the 2 million population of Israeli-blockaded Gaza, which is ruled by the Islamist militant movement Hamas.

“I, like everyone around here, am coming to liberate their land,” Hekam Kuhail, 60, told Reuters, flashing a v-for-victory sign and having her photograph taken near the border.

With black tyre smoke and Israeli tear gas rising into the air, Palestinian youths used T-shirts, cheap medical masks and perfume to try and protect themselves. Israel was also trying to douse burning tyres with fire hoses from its side of the border.

The Israeli military has stationed sharpshooters on its side of the frontier to deter Palestinians from trying to break through the fence into Israeli territory. Many of those killed were militants, according to Israel.

A Palestinian protects himself from inhaling tear gas at the Israel-Gaza border during a protest demanding the right to return to their homeland, in the southern Gaza Strip April 6, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

A Palestinian protects himself from inhaling tear gas at the Israel-Gaza border during a protest demanding the right to return to their homeland, in the southern Gaza Strip April 6, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

CRITICISM OF SHOOTING AT DEMONSTRATORS

Seventeen of the 20 Palestinian dead were killed by Israeli gunfire on the first day of protests a week ago, medics said. The deaths drew international criticism of Israel’s response, which human rights groups said involved live fire against demonstrators posing no immediate threat to life.

The United Nations human rights office urged Israel to exercise restraint.

“We are saying that Israel has obligations to ensure that excessive force is not employed. And that if there is unjustified and unlawful recourse to firearms, resulting in death, that may amount to a wilful killing. And that’s a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention,” U.N. human rights spokeswoman Elizabeth Throssell said in Geneva.

Israel says it is doing what it must to defend its border and that its troops have been responding with riot dispersal means and fire “in accordance with the rules of engagement”.

An Israeli military spokesman said on Friday that the army “will not allow any breach of the security infrastructure and fence, which protects Israeli civilians”.

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem urged protesters to keep rallies peaceful. “Maintaining the peaceful nature of the protests will strike all fragile Zionist propaganda,” he said.

The Israeli government has ruled out any right of return for Palestinian refugees, fearing that the country would lose its Jewish majority.

The United States has criticised protest organisers. “We condemn leaders and protesters who call for violence or who send protesters – including children – to the fence, knowing that they may be injured or killed,” President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace envoy, Jason Greenblatt, said on Thursday.

The protest action is set to wind up on May 15, when Palestinians mark the “Naqba”, or “Catastrophe”, when hundreds of thousands fled or were driven out of their homes during violence that culminated in war in May 1948 between the newly created state of Israel and its Arab neighbours.

(Additional reporting by Eli Berlzon and Amir Cohen on the Gaza border, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; writing by Stephen Farrell and Ori Lewis; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Israeli fire kills Palestinian at Gaza border, with more frontier protests ahead

Palestinian protesters carry tires to burn them during clashes with Israeli troops at Israel-Gaza border, in the southern Gaza Strip April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli fire killed a Palestinian at the Gaza border on Thursday and another died of wounds suffered several days ago, health officials said, bringing the number of Palestinian dead in a week of frontier protests and violence to 19.

The Israeli military said one of its aircraft targeted an armed militant near the security fence along the Gaza Strip.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians began a six-week-long protest last Friday in tent encampments along the fenced border of the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip, an enclave of two million ruled by the militant Hamas Islamist group.

The demonstrators are pressing for a right of return for refugees and their descendants to what is now Israel.

The latest deaths are likely to add to international concerns over the violence, which human rights groups have said involved live fire against unarmed demonstrators posing no immediate threat to life. Israel says it is doing what is necessary to defend its border and prevent it from being breached.

Sixteen Palestinians died after being shot by Israeli troops on the first day of the protest, Palestinian medical officials said, and another was killed on Tuesday.

A 33-year-old man, hit by Israeli fire a few days ago near one of the tent cities, died on Thursday, the health officials said.

The military said that during the protests its troops had used live fire only against people trying to sabotage the border fence or rolling burning tyres and throwing rocks.

Some of the dead were identified by Palestinian militant groups as members.

LETHAL FORCE

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an independent investigation into Friday’s deaths and appealed to those involved to refrain from any act that could lead to further casualties or place civilians in harm’s way.

U.N. deputy political affairs chief Taye-Brook Zerihoun, commenting on the violence, has said lethal force should only be used as a last resort.

Israel’s defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, described most of those killed as “terrorists …active in the armed wing of Hamas and Islamic Jihad”. The two groups advocate the destruction of Israel, which along with the West, regards them as terrorist organizations.

Many of the demonstrators who turned out for the start of the protest campaign returned to their homes and jobs over the week. But organizers expect large crowds again on Friday, the Muslim sabbath.

Hamas announced on Thursday it would pay $3,000 to the family of anyone killed in the protests, $500 to Palestinians critically wounded and $200 to those who sustain more minor injuries.

Israeli leaders have said payments by Palestinian authorities to the families of militants killed or imprisoned by Israel encourages attacks on Israelis. Palestinians revere brethren killed in the conflict with Israel as martyrs.

Visiting the frontier this week, Lieberman warned protesters “against continuing the provocation and said that “every person who comes close to the fence is endangering their lives”.

Protesters have been stocking up on tyres and say they intend to burn thousands of them at the border and also use mirrors and lasers to distract Israeli sharpshooters across the frontier on Friday.

Speaking on Army Radio, Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said: “We are prepared for every scenario, even an attempt to cause sharpshooters to lose focus.”

The protest action is set to wind up on May 15, when Palestinians mark the “Naqba”, or “Catastrophe”, when hundreds of thousands fled or were driven out of their homes during violence that culminated in war in May 1948 between the newly created state of Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Israel has long ruled out any right of return, fearing it would lose its Jewish majority.

Israel-Palestinian peace talks have been frozen since 2014.

The Palestinians are furious at U.S. President Donald Trump’s Dec. 6 decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and to move the U.S. Embassy to the city. Its eastern half was taken by Israel in a 1967 war and is wanted by Palestinians for the capital of a future state.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by William Maclean)

U.S., Israeli troops train together in mock Mideast village

U.S. Marine and an Israeli soldier practice urban combat during Juniper Cobra, a U.S.-Israeli joint air defence exercise, in Zeelim, southern Israel, March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Amir Cohen

ZEELIM MILITARY BASE, Israel (Reuters) – The Israeli military hosted U.S. Marines this week for an urban combat drill in a mock-up of a generic Middle East village, sharing know-how and signaling the allies’ shared interests as their leaders close ranks on a host of regional issues.

“We are willing to work and train together, and if God wills it, if we ever need to be side by side, then we will,” Lieutenant-Colonel Marcus Mainz of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit told Reuters during the exercise at Israel’s Zeelim base.

His troops joined Israeli special forces regiments to practise battle formation, helicopter deployment and medical evacuations in a mock-up village in the desert, complete with Arabic graffiti and a fake mosque.

The maneuvers were part of a wider, biennial joint air defense exercise known as Juniper Cobra, which this year took place amid heightened Israeli and U.S. concern over the missile arsenal of Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

Mainz said his troops had learned from the Israelis’ experiences in fighting Hamas guerrillas in Gaza, and had in turn shared tips from U.S. warfronts.

“They teach them what to see when they were either in the Gaza Strip or somewhere else on the battlefield, for us in Afghanistan and Iraq, and teach that young soldier what to look for,” he said.

U.S. Marines and Israeli soldiers practice urban combat during Juniper Cobra, a U.S.-Israeli joint air defence exercise, in Zeelim, southern Israel, March 12, 2018. Picture taken March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

U.S. Marines and Israeli soldiers practice urban combat during Juniper Cobra, a U.S.-Israeli joint air defence exercise, in Zeelim, southern Israel, March 12, 2018. Picture taken March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

“And what happens is they start getting excited and they are talking about ‘I learned this here’, ‘I learned that there’.”

Under President Donald Trump, the United States has boosted its already strong support for Israel – including by recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, a move that angered many Muslims and Arabs who back the Palestinian claim on the city.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Gareth Jones)

An economy in ruins leaves Gazans with hard choices

Palestinians stand at their house in the northern Gaza Strip February 12, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) – The man who makes crisps, chocolate and vanilla snacks for Gaza had just finished explaining how his business was going through the worst economic crisis of his life when the lights went out, shutting down his factory. Again.

Wael Al-Wadiya has been running his food manufacturing business since 1985 – in a Gaza Strip that was very different from the one in which he and two million other Palestinians now live.

Back then Israeli settlers were still in Gaza, the Islamist militant group Hamas did not yet exist, and Palestinians were still two years away from the first of the uprisings against Israeli military occupation that introduced the word ‘Intifada’ to the world.

Sitting in a slowly declining industrial estate near the fortified border with Israel, the 51-year-old confectioner says that Gaza has been brought to a near-standstill by a decade of Israeli-led blockades, and internal Palestinian divisions.

“The situation is very miserable. People’s ability to buy has fallen to a minimum, therefore our businesses and businesses in Gaza are suffering as never before,” said Wadiya.

Palestinians work at Wael Al-Wadiya's snacks and chips factory, east of Gaza City February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Palestinians work at Wael Al-Wadiya’s snacks and chips factory, east of Gaza City February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

He has cut production by 70 percent and wages by 30 percent. Employees who used to work each day now may work one day in three. “Unless a miracle happens, factories and companies will close down and it will be the real death of the economy,” he said.

There has long been poverty in Gaza, but with unemployment now at 43.6 percent, according to the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics, even once-wealthy merchants are defaulting on debts, causing other businesses to collapse, like dominoes.

Many in Gaza blame Israel for the hardships, accusing it of placing an economic blockade on the enclave that has drastically reduced the movement of people and goods.

But Gazans also fault their own leaders, complaining of a power struggle between Hamas, the armed group that seized military power in Gaza in 2007, and Fatah, the secular party of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Both Hamas and Fatah levy taxes. Both run competing bureaucracies. And even electricity has become a tool of political power – until recently the blackouts that plagued Wadiya’s factory were exacerbated by Abbas cutting money for Israeli current for Gaza.

Fatah says Hamas exploits money it collects from electricity consumers for its own purposes.

Israel, which pulled its settlers and soldiers out of Gaza in 2005, says it has been forced to control access to and from the territory to stop Hamas sending out gunmen and bombers, and from smuggling in weapons or material to make them.

The Israeli military says that it carries out “constant calculated risk management” between allowing humanitarian aid through to Gazans, while contending with Hamas, which “attempts to exploit the aid intended for Gaza’s civilian residents”.

 

POVERTY AND SECURITY

A combination of war, isolation, and internal rivalries has left Gaza in its current state.

Last year Abbas cut the salaries of 60,000 government employees in Gaza by 30 per cent, leaving them with little to spend in shops and markets after paying off bank loans. The sums of bounced checks in Gaza nearly doubled from $37 million to $62 million between 2015 and 2016, and then again to $112 million in 2017, according to the Palestinian Monetary Authority.

This lack of buying power contributed to a drop in imports through the one remaining commercial crossing with Israel, with just 350 truckloads per day compared with 800 in the last quarter of 2017.

Palestinian children play as a girl held by her mother looks out of the window of house in the northern Gaza Strip February 12, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Palestinian children play as a girl held by her mother looks out of the window of house in the northern Gaza Strip February 12, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Some merchants took a religious initiative in December in which they offered to write off customers’ debts using the hashtag ‘Sameh Toajar’ – ‘Forgive, and Be rewarded (by God).’

It was supported by Hamas and other factions, but the scale of the debts was too great for such a small-scale remedy.

“Gaza has gone into clinical death and is in need of root solutions, real and sustainable, and not temporary or short-lived solutions,” said Maher al-Tabba, a Gaza economist.

At the other end of the economic scale from the merchants are Suhaib, Shadi and Ahmed al-Waloud, who scavenge through garbage near their home in northern Gaza searching for plastic to sell to recycling plants.

Their father was one of the Gazans who lost their jobs in Israel more than a decade ago when Israel closed the door to thousands of Palestinian workers following Hamas’s seizure of control.

“I have been used to doing this job since I was a child,” said Suhaib, 19, from Beit Lahiya. But they now earn just enough to “stay alive,” he said, because the price paid for second-hand plastic has fallen by 80 per cent. “Nowadays there is not much work. People are not throwing away a lot of plastic.”

The question that dominates Gaza is whether hard times will make Palestinians more inclined to support attacks on Israel, or less so, because they fear reprisals.

 

Ali al-Hayek, the chairman of the Palestinian Businessmen Association in Gaza, said that total collapse of the economy would lead to instability that would be in nobody’s interests.

“Gaza is living through a real humanitarian crisis,” he said. “An economic collapse will lead to a security collapse that will cause trouble for the international community and for Israel.”

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi Writing by Stephen Farrell, Editing by William Maclean)

Alienation drives young Palestinians beyond politics

A protester holds a Palestinian flag as he poses for a photograph at the scene of clashes with Israeli troops near the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, January 19, 2018.

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Miriam Berger

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Confrontations between young Palestinians and Israeli soldiers have taken on a life of their own since Palestinian leaders called for protests against Donald Trump’s decision to treat Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

While Hamas, Fatah and other groups call for a weekly show of strength on Fridays, dozens of stone-throwers turn out along the border between Gaza and Israel every day, even when, as last Friday, a protest is called off due to bad weather.

Some wear the colors of the various factions vying to lead the drive for a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, but others have no affiliation, a sign of alienation that makes the political situation more volatile.

“I am not against any of the factions, but we are grown-ups and are intelligent and we see that the ongoing division is weakening us all,” said a 28-year-old protester, referring to a renewed standoff between the Islamist Hamas and secular Fatah.

The two groups have long been rivals and have failed to achieve any lasting unity agreement in years of off-and-on negotiations. Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah forces in 2007.

Conscious of the growing influence of the youth due to their ballooning numbers, both Hamas and Fatah have recently tried to court them, holding large, separate meetings in Gaza to convince them to back reconciliation.

But, as the daily scene on the border shows, young Palestinians are increasingly beyond reach, put off by a four-year stalemate in peace talks with Israel and little progress toward healing internal rifts.

Their growing frustration surfaces in social media criticism of their leaders that is met by with an increasingly authoritarian response.

The stone-throwers say the more alienated they feel, the greater the likelihood they will take to the streets to protest.

“We are hungry and at home we have no electricity and our fathers have no jobs. This can’t bring about anything except an explosion,” said a 23-year-old unemployed history graduate who gave his name as Ahmed.

Asked about the target of such an explosion, he said: “Against the Israeli occupation, because it bears prime responsibility for everything, even for the division between Hamas and Fatah.”

 

ELECTIONS?

Palestinian politicians have agreed to hold long-delayed elections in both territories this year as part of moves to end the schism that led to Hamas seizing control of Gaza in 2007 from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority based in the larger West Bank.

Whether they will materialize is unclear.

Palestinian security officials have over the past few years questioned many people, sometimes for weeks, about social media posts criticizing Fatah and Hamas, according to Palestinian human rights groups and New York-based Human Rights Watch.

In Gaza, most complaints center on electricity shortages that date back 11 years, with both groups seen at fault.

Slow unity efforts are another hot-button issue: some blame Hamas for balking at handing full control of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority while others criticize Fatah for retaining salary cuts in Gaza.

Fatah is also faulted for the fact that its engagement in peace talks with Israel has brought little progress toward a Palestinian state and for keeping aging leaders in place.

People aged 15 to 29 make up a third of the population of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and partially blockaded Gaza strip and a disproportionate number of the many unemployed.

“There is no party that represents me or that I can say ‘this party speaks for me,'” said Oula Jabara, a university student in the occupied West Bank aged 20, who was a child when Mahmoud Abbas was elected president in 2005.

Almost three quarters of university students and 69 percent of all 18 to 22-year-olds want Abbas to resign, compared with 59 percent of Palestinians aged 50 and above, a December poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed.

Hasan Faraj, the Secretary General of Fatah’s Youth Movement, declined to provide membership numbers, calling it an internal matter. He said the movement remained relevant with “tens of thousands” of official members, and more affiliated.

The lack of transparency underscores a common complaint by young people that party leaders do not think they count.

Of six people interviewed at protests against Trump’s Jerusalem move, none was prepared to say who they wanted to replace Abbas.

“Whoever it is will just be like the last,” said Taha, a 33-year-old cook who declined to give his last name and wore a mask to avoid identification by Israeli authorities.

“I don’t have faith in any of the parties.”

In the absence of political dialogue either within Palestinian factions or between them and Israel, many young Palestinians suffer in silence and some take to the streets.

Palestinian uprisings erupted in 1987 and in 2000, the latter after the failure of U.S.-sponsored peace talks. A build-up of grievances could spark a new one, but it would likely take broad public support among Palestinians and involvement by factions to keep it going.

“Non-affiliated youth may fuel an uprising, a short but aggressive one, but they can’t sustain it,” said Palestinian political analyst Akram Attallah.

Sixteen Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed in protests since Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement and hundreds of Palestinians have been injured, eight on the Gaza border on Friday alone, according to the territory’s health ministry.

A 13-year-old boy on the border said he had been hit twice by rubber bullets. His mother had warned him a third hit could be fatal and his father had beaten him to try to keep him away.

“I always find an excuse to slip out,” he said. “So what, I will be a martyr.”

(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Philippa Fletcher)

Israel puts tunnel dug under Gaza border on display to show threat

An Israeli soldier stands next to an entrance to what the Israeli military say is a cross-border attack tunnel dug from Gaza to Israel, on the Israeli side of the Gaza Strip border near Kissufim, Israel January 18, 2018

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Israeli military brought journalists on Thursday to film a 2 km (1.25 mile) tunnel dug by militants from the Gaza Strip to Israel, saying it was putting the construction on display to show the continuing threat it faces from the territory.

The Islamic Jihad militant group has claimed responsibility for building the tunnel, saying its aim was to use it to attack Israel in the next armed confrontation.

A general view shows the interiors of what the Israeli military say is a cross-border attack tunnel dug from Gaza to Israel, on the Israeli side of the Gaza Strip border near Kissufim

A general view shows the interiors of what the Israeli military say is a cross-border attack tunnel dug from Gaza to Israel, on the Israeli side of the Gaza Strip border near Kissufim January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Jack Guez/Pool

Twelve Gaza militants, most of them from Islamic Jihad, were killed in the destruction of the tunnel and in rescue efforts when Israel destroyed the underground passage on October 30.

The tunnel, around the height and width of an upright person, was lined with concrete slabs. It was discovered about 120 meters inside Israel near Kissufim, about six meters below ground, as tunnelers burrowed towards the surface looking to build an exit, the Israeli military said.

“The tunnel that we see here is one of three tunnels that have been destroyed over the last two months,” Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus, said. “The threat has not passed and the terror from Hamas has not passed.”

Palestinian tunnel diggers have long operated in border areas of the Gaza Strip, using the underground passageways to bypass tight border restrictions imposed by Israel and Egypt on the movement of goods and people, and to smuggle weapons.

Israel captured Gaza in a 1967 war. It is home to two million Palestinians, who complain that the blockade has left the enclave isolated and impoverished. Israel cites security concerns for the restrictions, tightened after the Islamist militant group Hamas took power in Gaza more than a decade ago.

(Writing by Ori Lewis and Stephen Farrell; Editing by Peter Graff)

Palestinians protesting U.S Jerusalem move clash with Israeli troops

A Palestinian demonstrator hurls stones towards Israeli troops during clashes, near the border with Israel in the east of Gaza City January 12, 2018.

GAZA (Reuters) – Hundreds of Palestinians clashed with Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank on Friday in what they said was a protest against U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Such clashes occur weekly, but tensions have risen following U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement on Dec. 6, which stirred anger across the Arab and Muslim world and concern among Washington’s European allies as well as Russia.

The move was welcomed by Israel.

“There is almost nothing left for the United States to do before it clearly declares a state of war against the Palestinian people, its authority and leadership,” wrote commentator Rajab Abu Serreya in the widely-circulated Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam.

A total of 17 Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed in the flare-up since Trump’s announcement, though analysts say neither Israel nor the Palestinians are interested in a major escalation.

A few hundred Gazans approached the border fence with Israel, throwing stones at soldiers who tried to disperse them by firing canisters of tear gas, according to Reuters video. Smaller crowds gathered in a couple of West Bank cities where protesters threw stones and burned tyres. Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and threw stun grenades.

East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want for the capital of a Palestinian state, was captured by Israel in the 1967 war and later annexed, though that action has not been internationally recognised.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have collapsed, partly due to Israeli settlement building on occupied land and to Israeli concerns over contact between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas which Israel considers a terrorist organisation.

Palestinian medical officials said 14 Palestinians were wounded by live ammunition in Friday’s clash. An Israeli military spokeswoman said she was checking the reports.

“We want the Americans to know that the bloodshed here of unarmed people is on the hands of their president,” said Ali, a 20-year-old university student in Gaza who did not want to give his family name.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; editing by Ralph Boulton)

‘God bless you’, Netanyahu tells Guatemalan president over Jerusalem embassy move

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands as they deliver statements to the media during their meeting in Jerusalem November 29, 2016.

JERUSALEM/GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Guatemala with a “God bless you” on Monday for deciding to move its embassy to Jerusalem, while the Palestinians said the Central American country was “on the wrong side of history”.

In an official Facebook post on Sunday, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said he had chosen to relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv – siding with the United States in a dispute over Jerusalem’s status – after talking to Netanyahu. [L1N1OO0F7]

U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Dec. 6, reversing decades of U.S. policy and upsetting the Arab world and Western allies.

On Thursday, 128 countries rebuked Trump by backing a non-binding U.N. General Assembly resolution calling on the United States to drop its recognition of Jerusalem.

“God bless you, my friend, President Jimmy Morales, God bless both our countries, Israel and Guatemala,” Netanyahu said, switching to English, in remarks to a weekly meeting of his Likud party faction in parliament.

Guatemala and neighboring Honduras were two of only a handful of countries to join Israel and the United States, which has pledged to move its embassy to Jerusalem, in voting against the U.N. resolution.

The United States is an important source of assistance to Guatemala and Honduras, and Trump had threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that supported the U.N. resolution.

The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest obstacles to an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they want to establish in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the entire city, home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions.

The official Palestinian news agency WAFA quoted Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki as saying that Morales was “dragging his country to the wrong side of history by committing a flagrant violation of international law”.

Prior to 1980, Guatemala – along with Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, The Netherlands, Panama, Venezuela and Uruguay – maintained an embassy in Jerusalem.

Israel’s passage in June 1980 of a law proclaiming Jerusalem its “indivisible and eternal capital” led to a U.N. Security Council resolution calling upon those countries to move their embassies to Tel Aviv, prompting their transfer.

Israel’s ambassador to Guatemala, Matty Cohen, said on Army Radio that no date had been set for the embassy move, “but it will happen after” the United States relocates its own embassy to Jerusalem. U.S. officials have said that move could take at least two years.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and Bill Barreto in Guatemala City; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Edmund Blair)