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)

Israel says it destroyed Gaza attack tunnel under Egyptian border

Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas stand guard near the border between Egypt and Gaza, in the southern Gaza Strip January 14, 2018.

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel said on Sunday it had destroyed a cross-border attack tunnel that ran from Gaza into Israel and Egypt dug by Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Palestinian enclave, and that it would destroy all attack tunnels by the year’s end.

Residents in Gaza said Israeli jets bombed an area east of the southern town of Rafah, by the Egyptian and Israeli borders, late on Saturday night. Israel confirmed the attack immediately after, but gave no details until Sunday.

There was no immediate comment from Hamas or Egypt, or any reports of casualties.

Israel says it has developed new means which it has declined to disclose, to find tunnels. Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman lauded the breakthrough in an interview on commercial television news, saying they would all be destroyed by the end of the year.

“By the end of 2018, we will eliminate all the Hamas attack tunnels … we may even manage to do this sooner, but the task is to destroy them all by the end of the year,” Lieberman said.

Tensions have risen since President Donald Trump reversed decades of U.S. policy on Dec. 6 by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Gaza militants have launched 18 cross-border rockets or mortar bombs, causing no fatalities or serious injuries in Israel, and 15 protesters and two gunmen have been killed by Israeli fire.

The attacks from Gaza, which Israel has blamed on groups not affiliated with Hamas, have drawn Israeli air strikes, usually on targets that have been evacuated.

“There are those who say the Israeli military attacks sand dunes – that is incorrect,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, addressing criticism from lawmakers who have called for a stronger armed response, told reporters after the tunnel was targeted.

Netanyahu cautioned Hamas that Israel “will respond with even greater force” if rocket strikes continue. Israel has said Hamas, as the dominant force in Gaza, bears overall responsibility for any attacks from the enclave.

But Yoav Galant, a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet, said on Army Radio that Israel is “not looking for confrontation with Hamas”. Nonetheless, he said Israel “could not abide by a situation in which Israelis are harmed by fire (from Gaza)”.

Colonel Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, described the target hit on Saturday as 1.5 km (one mile)-lone “terror tunnel” running the Kerem Shalom border crossing into Israel, and into Egypt.

“It could also have served to transfer terrorists from the Gaza Strip into Egypt in order to attack Israeli targets from Egypt,” he said.

Kerem Shalom, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza, was shut down on Saturday before the Israeli attack.

Underground tunnels are used to smuggle in all manner of commercial goods to Gaza, and to bring in weapons for militants from Hamas and other groups. They have also been used by Hamas to launch attacks inside Israel.

During the last Gaza war, in 2014, Hamas fighters used dozens of tunnels to blindside Israel’s superior forces.

The Israeli military said it has destroyed three tunnels in the past two months.

Israel has been constructing a sensor-equipped underground wall along the 60-km (36-mile) Gaza border, aiming to complete the $1.1 billion project by mid-2019.

(Additional reporting by Ori Lewis, Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Raissa Kasolowsky and David Evans)

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)

Israel strikes Hamas targets in Gaza after Palestinian rocket attacks

An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket in the southern Israeli city of

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Israeli military said it attacked a Hamas training compound in Gaza on Monday in response to rocket strikes from the Palestinian enclave, which have surged since U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Dec 6.

Neither side reported any casualties in the overnight shelling exchange, which occurred days before U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visits Israel and neighboring Egypt, which also borders Gaza and is involved in its internal politics.

Militants in Gaza, territory controlled by the Hamas Islamist group, have launched more than a dozen rockets into southern Israel over the last two weeks, the most intensive attacks since a seven-week-long Gaza war in 2014.

Two rockets were fired late on Sunday, one of them exploding inside an Israeli border community and the other hitting an open area, the military said. Another rocket launched early on Monday fell short inside Gaza, it said.

Three structures in a Hamas training camp were hit in the Israeli counter-strike, the military said.

Hamas usually evacuates such facilities when tensions rise, and Israel’s choice of the low-profile target appeared to signal a desire to avoid more serious confrontation with the group.

“Israel does not seek escalation,” Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said on Army Radio.

But Zeev Elkin, another member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet, said in an interview with the radio station that Israel’s military response would “have to be harshened” if the rocket fire did not stop.

Israeli officials have blamed the fire on smaller militant groups in Gaza and called on Hamas to rein them in. Should Hamas fail to do so, both Shaked and Elkin said, Israel could eventually target the group’s leadership for attack.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; editing by John Stonestreet)

Palestinian stabs Israeli in Jerusalem; anti-Trump protest flares in Beirut

A Palestinian demonstrator shouts during clashes with Israeli troops at a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near the West Bank city of Ramallah December 11, 2017.

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A Palestinian stabbed an Israeli security guard at Jerusalem’s main bus station on Sunday, police said, and violence flared near the U.S. Embassy in Beirut over U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Four days of street protests in the Palestinian territories over Trump’s announcement on Wednesday have largely died down, but his overturning of long-standing U.S. policy on Jerusalem — a city holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians — drew more Arab warnings of potential damage to prospects for Middle East peace.

“Our hope is that everything is calming down and that we are returning to a path of normal life without riots and without violence,” Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Army Radio.

But in Jerusalem, a security guard was in critical condition after a 24-year-old Palestinian man from the occupied West Bank stabbed him after approaching a metal detector at an entrance to the city’s central bus station, police said. The alleged assailant was taken into custody after a passer-by tackled him.

In public remarks on Sunday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, a frequent critic of Israel, called it an “invader state” and a “terror state”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who spoke at a news conference in Paris alongside French President Emmanuel Macron after the two leaders met, fired back:

“I’m not used to receiving lectures about morality from a leader who bombs Kurdish villages in his native Turkey, who jails journalists, helps Iran go around international sanctions and who helps terrorists, including in Gaza, kill innocent people,” Netanyahu said.

Macron told Netanyahu that he needed to make gestures to the Palestinians to break the impasse between the two sides.

“I asked Prime Minister Netanyahu to make some courageous gestures towards the Palestinians to get out of the current impasse,” Macron said, suggesting that a freeze of construction in settlements could be a first step.

Most countries consider East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after capturing it in a 1967 war, to be occupied territory and say the status of the city should be decided at future Israeli-Palestinian talks. Israel says that all of Jerusalem is its capital, while Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state.

The Trump administration has said it is still committed to reviving Palestinian-Israeli talks that collapsed in 2014, but jettisoning old policies is necessary to break the deadlock.

Washington says it has not taken a position on Jerusalem’s final status or borders, but it is sensible to recognize that any future peace deal will have Israel’s capital in the city.

The United States was “as committed to the peace process as we’ve ever been”, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Sunday. Trump “didn’t talk about boundaries, he didn’t talk about borders… Because the final status of Jerusalem is between the Palestinians and the Israelis. It’s not for the Americans to decide.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will not meet U.S. Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to the region, Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki said on Saturday. The White House said on Sunday that decision was unfortunate and Pence looked forward to seeing Netanyahu and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

“It’s unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority is walking away again from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region,” said Jarrod Agen, a spokesman for Pence.

Netanyahu reacted to critics in a statement before talks with Macron, to be followed by a meeting with European foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday.

“I hear (from Europe) voices of condemnation over President Trump’s historic announcement, but I have not heard any condemnation for the rocket firing against Israel that has come (after the announcement) and the awful incitement against us,” Netanyahu said.

A Palestinian protester throws back a gas canister fired by Israeli forces during a protest in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, December 10, 2017. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

DEMONSTRATIONS

In Beirut, Lebanese security forces fired tear gas and water cannons at protesters, some of them waving Palestinian flags, near the U.S. Embassy.

Demonstrators set fires in the street, torched U.S. and Israeli flags and threw projectiles towards security forces that had barricaded the main road to the complex.

In the Moroccan capital, Rabat, tens of thousands of protesters marched down the city’s main thoroughfare chanting slogans including, “The people want to liberate Palestine” and “Death to Israel, enemy of the people and provoker of wars.”

Waving Palestinian flags and holding up pictures of Jerusalem, they expressed anger at the “betrayal” by Arab governments perceived to have backed Trump’s move.

In the Indonesian capital Jakarta, thousands protested outside the U.S. embassy, many waving banners saying “Palestine is in our hearts”.

Maliki has said the Palestinians will be looking for a new peace talks broker instead of the United States and would seek a United Nations Security Council resolution over Trump’s decision.

Arab foreign ministers who met in Cairo on Saturday urged the United States to abandon its decision on Jerusalem and said the move would spur violence throughout the region.

Echoing that view, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates, said the U.S. move “could throw a lifebuoy to terrorist and armed groups, which have begun to lose ground” in the Middle East.

GAZA TUNNEL

Along Israel’s tense frontier with the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military on Sunday destroyed what it described as a “significant” cross-border attack tunnel dug by the enclave’s dominant Islamist group, Hamas.

There was no immediate comment from Hamas on the demolition, which came as Palestinian factions tried to meet Sunday’s deadline for an Egyptian-mediated handover of Gaza by Hamas to Western-backed President Abbas after a decade’s schism.

Pre-dawn Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip on Saturday killed two Palestinian gunmen after militants fired rockets from the area into Israel on Friday.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem, John Irish in Paris, Tom Perry in Beirut, Agustinus Beo Da Costa in Jakarta, Sami Aboudi in Dubai, Doina Chiacu in Washington, and Jeff Mason in West Palm Beach, Florida; Editing by Peter Graff and Mary Milliken)

Hamas calls for Palestinian uprising in response to Trump’s Jerusalem plan

Trump's Jerusalem move will hasten Israel's destruction: Iran

By Dan Williams and Nidal al-Mughrabi

JERUSALEM/GAZA (Reuters) – The Islamist group Hamas urged Palestinians on Thursday to abandon peace efforts and launch a new uprising against Israel in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as its capital.

The Israeli military said it was reinforcing troops in the occupied West Bank, deploying several new army battalions and putting other forces on standby, describing the measures as part of its “readiness for possible developments”.

Medics said at least 31 people were wounded by Israeli army gunfire when Palestinian protests erupted in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Thursday. They said 11 were hit by live bullets and 20 by rubber bullets. One person was in a critical condition. Some protesters threw rocks at soldiers and others chanted: “Death to America! Death to the fool Trump!”.

Trump reversed decades of U.S. policy on Wednesday by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, imperiling Middle East peace efforts and upsetting the Arab world and Western allies alike.

(For a graphic on possible Jerusalem U.S. Embassy sites, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2jIXIoq)

The status of Jerusalem – home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions – is one of the biggest obstacles to reaching a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

“We should call for and we should work on launching an intifada (Palestinian uprising) in the face of the Zionist enemy,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a speech in Gaza.

He urged Palestinians, Muslims and Arabs to hold rallies against the U.S decision on Friday, calling it a “day of rage”.

Naser Al-Qidwa, an aide to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and senior official in his Fatah party, urged Palestinians to stage protests but said they should be peaceful.

Asked on Israel Radio whether there might be another intifada, Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said: “In my estimate Abu Mazen (Abbas) will not wreck matters. It would not be helpful to him.”

Israel considers Jerusalem its eternal and indivisible capital. Palestinians want the capital of an independent state of theirs to be in the city’s eastern sector, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move never recognized internationally.

EMBASSY MOVE

Trump announced his administration would begin a process of moving the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a step expected to take years, a move his predecessors opted not to take to avoid inflaming tensions.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who hailed Trump’s announcement as a “historic landmark”, said many countries would follow the U.S. move and contacts were underway. He did not name the countries he was referring to.

“President Trump has immortalized himself in the chronicles of our capital. His name will now be held aloft, alongside other names connected to the glorious history of Jerusalem and of our people,” he said in a speech at Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

Other close Western allies of Washington, including France and Britain, have been critical of Trump’s move. Pope Francis has called for Jerusalem’s status quo to be respected, while China and Russia have also expressed concern.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said: “The European Union has a clear and united position. We believe the only realistic solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine is based on two states and with Jerusalem as the capital of both.”

The United Nations Security Council is likely to meet on Friday to discuss the U.S. decision, diplomats said.

Trump’s decision has raised doubts about his administration’s ability to follow through on a peace effort that his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, has led for months aimed at reviving long-stalled negotiations.

Haniyeh called on Abbas to withdraw from peacemaking with Israel and on Arabs to boycott the Trump administration. Abbas said on Wednesday the United States had abdicated its role as a mediator in peace efforts.

“We have given instruction to all Hamas members and to all its wings to be fully ready for any new instructions or orders that may be given to confront this strategic danger that threatens Jerusalem and threatens Palestine,” Haniyeh said.

“United Jerusalem is Arab and Muslim, and it is the capital of the state of Palestine, all of Palestine,” he said, referring to territory including Israel as well as the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.

EXPECTING BACKLASH

Israel and the United States consider Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2007, a terrorist organization. Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and its suicide bombings helped spearhead the last intifada, from 2000 to 2005.

Fearing recrimination could disrupt reconciliation efforts between Hamas and Fatah, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Al-Hamdallah and other Fatah delegates arrived in Gaza on Thursday to meet Hamas.

The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem, believing its status should be resolved in negotiations. No other country has its embassy in Jerusalem.

Trump’s decision fulfils a campaign promise and will please Republican conservatives and evangelicals who make up a sizeable portion of his domestic support.

He said his move was not intended to tip the scale in favor of Israel and that any deal involving the future of Jerusalem would have to be negotiated by the parties, but the move was seen almost uniformly in Arab capitals as a sharp tilt toward Israel.

The United States is asking Israel to temper its response to the announcement because Washington expects a backlash and is weighing the potential threat to U.S. facilities and people, according to a State Department document seen by Reuters.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah lawmakers said the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital constituted aggression against Palestinians and resistance was the only way to recover lost rights. Hezbollah and Israel fought a war in 2006.

Protests broke out in areas of Jordan’s capital, Amman, inhabited by Palestinian refugees, and several hundred protesters gathered outside the U.S. consulate in Istanbul on Wednesday after Trump’s announcement.

In Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, about 50 members of the Islamist movement Jamaat-ud-Dawa staged a protest on Thursday to denounce the U.S. decision. A few dozen people from a trade organization joined the rally.

Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan said the United States was “exposing its colonial ambition in Muslim territory”.

Palestinians switched off Christmas lights on trees outside Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, where Christians believe Jesus was born, and in Ramallah, next to the burial site of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, in protest.

(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi in Kabul, Kay Johnson in Islamabad, Ellen Francis in Beirut, Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Janet Lawrence)

Six killed as Israel destroys Gaza tunnel

An Israeli soldier walks near the border line, between Israel and the Gaza Strip, in Israel October 30, 2017.

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Six Palestinian militants were killed on Monday when Israel blew up what it said was a tunnel being dug across the Gaza Strip border.

A source for the Islamic Jihad militant group said Arafat Abu Marshould, head of the faction’s armed wing in central Gaza, was killed along with a senior associate and two other gunmen. The group said it had put its fighters on “full alert.”

The armed wing of the Islamist Hamas group said two of its gunmen were killed while trying to rescue Islamic Jihad men working in the tunnel. Gaza health officials said nine people were wounded.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in remarks to legislators of his right-wing Likud party, said “groundbreaking technology” aided the tunnel’s discovery, but gave no details.

Israel has been constructing a sensor-equipped underground wall along the 60-km (36-mile) Gaza border, aiming to complete the $1.1 billion project by mid-2019.

During the last Gaza war in 2014, Hamas fighters used dozens of tunnels to blindside Israel’s superior forces and threaten civilian communities near the frontier, a counterpoint to the Iron Dome anti-missile system that largely protected the country’s heartland from militant rocket barrages.

Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said the tunnel destroyed on Monday was in the process of being dug from the Gaza town of Khan Younis across the border, where it was blown up.

Asked by reporters if Hamas, rather than another armed faction, had dug it, Conricus said: “I cannot confirm that.”

“The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) does not intend to escalate the situation but stands prepared for a variety of scenarios,” Conricus said. “The working assumption is that this is not the only tunnel that Palestinian terrorist organizations are trying to dig.”

“We see Hamas as being responsible for any attempt emanating from its territory, and carried out by people who are under its authority, to impinge on our sovereignty,” Netanyahu told the Likud lawmakers, stopping short of accusing Hamas directly of digging the tunnel.

Islamic Jihad spokesman Daoud Shehab in a statement said Israel’s bombing of “a tunnel of the resistance is a terrorist aggression” and Palestinian resistance factions retained the right to respond “at the suitable time”.

Hamas reached a reconciliation deal with Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority earlier this month, a decade after Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in a brief civil war.

Israel and the United States have called for Hamas to be disarmed as part of the pact so Israeli peace efforts with Abbas, which collapsed in 2014, could proceed. Hamas has rejected the demand.

On Saturday, UNRWA, the main U.N. welfare agency for Palestinians said it had discovered “what appeared to be a tunnel” underneath one of its schools in Gaza on Oct. 15 and had sealed the cavity.

 

 

(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Janet Lawrence)

 

Israel: No peace talks with Palestinian government reliant on Hamas

Israel: No peace talks with Palestinian government reliant on Hamas

By Ori Lewis

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel said on Tuesday it would not hold peace negotiations with a Palestinian government dependent on the Islamist Hamas group, responding to a new reconciliation agreement between the two main Palestinian factions.

Hamas, dominant in Gaza, and West Bank-based Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction sealed a deal last week in Cairo in which Hamas agreed to cede administrative control of Gaza, including the key Rafah border crossing.

Under the Egyptian-brokered accord, the Fatah-backed government headed by Prime Minister Rami al-Hamdallah will run Gaza and the West Bank and Palestinian officials said there were no plans to add Hamas ministers to the government.

The last Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014, partly due to Israel’s opposition to an earlier attempt at a Fatah-Hamas unity pact, and to Israeli settlement building on occupied land Palestinians seek for a state, among other factors.

In a statement on Tuesday after a meeting of senior Israeli ministers known as the Security Cabinet, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaffirmed longstanding Israeli demands that Hamas abandon militancy.

“Pursuant to previous decisions, (Israel) will not conduct diplomatic negotiations with a Palestinian government that relies on Hamas, a terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel, as long as it does not fulfill the following conditions,” the statement began.

It outlined seven conditions including a demand that Hamas recognize Israel and disarm, sever its ties with Iran, return bodies of Israeli soldiers and civilians Israel believes are alive and held in Gaza, and that Abbas’s Palestinian Authority (PA) assume full security control of the coastal enclave.

Under the reconciliation deal, about 3,000 Fatah security officers are to join the Gaza police force but Hamas will remain the most powerful armed Palestinian faction in the territory, with some 25,000 well-equipped militants.

Hamas seized Gaza from Fatah forces in a brief Palestinian civil war in 2007 and previous Egyptian mediation efforts to reconcile the rivals fell short.

Analysts said the current deal is more likely to stick, given Hamas’s growing isolation from erstwhile donor states and realization of how hard it would be to govern and rebuild Gaza.

PALESTINIANS UNMOVED

Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah said the Palestinians would not be swayed by Israel’s statement as it “will not change the official Palestinian position to move forward with reconciliation efforts.”

He said the deal and the PA’s return to Gaza had been welcomed by major powers including the United States and this would “achieve the aspirations of our people … ending the occupation and establishing an independent Palestinian state.”

Netanyahu’s call is certain to please the right flank of his coalition and settler supporters with whom he has tried to find favor. On Tuesday, Israel announced more plans to build hundreds of new settler homes in the occupied West Bank.

But it could hamper U.S. mediation attempts to resume peace negotiations. U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace negotiator, Jason Greenblatt, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner have held discussions to achieve what Trump hopes will be the “deal of the century”.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; writing by Ori Lewis; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Israel strikes Hamas post after Gaza rocket fire

A Palestinian man surveys the scene of an Israeli airstrike at a Hamas outpost in the central Gaza Strip October 9, 2017. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Israeli military said on Sunday it destroyed an outpost belonging to the Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip on Sunday after Gaza militants fired a rocket toward Israel.

The rocket set off air raid sirens in southern Israel but fell short, landing inside Palestinian territory, the Israeli military said in a statement.

“In response, an (Israeli) tank targeted and destroyed a Hamas outpost in the southern Gaza Strip,” it said.

Officials in Gaza said no one was injured when the tank shell struck a Hamas observation post near the border with Israel.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the Palestinian rocket fire. Israel said that it holds Hamas accountable for what happens in the territory.

The group has observed a de-facto ceasefire with Israel since a 2014 war, but small armed cells of jihadist Salafis have continued to occasionally launch rockets at Israel. When those attacks occur, Hamas usually orders its fighters to vacate potential targets for Israeli retaliation.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Peter Cooney)