Muslims must stop other countries opening Jerusalem embassies: Turkey

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Secretary General of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Yousef bin Ahmad Al-Othaimeen are seen during a meeting of the OIC Foreign Ministers Council in Istanbul, Turkey May 18, 2018. Hudaverdi Arif Yaman/Pool via Reuters

By Tuvan Gumrukcu and Parisa Hafezi

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey called on Muslim countries on Friday to stop other nations from following the United States and moving their embassies in Israel to Jerusalem, as it opened a meeting in Istanbul on Friday.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called the summit of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) after Israeli forces this week killed dozens of Palestinian protesters who were demonstrating in Gaza against the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

Turkey has been one of the most vocal critics of the U.S. move and the violence in Gaza, declaring three days of mourning. Erdogan has described the actions of the Israeli forces as a “genocide” and Israel as a “terrorist state”.

“We will emphasise the status of the Palestine issue for our community, and that we will not allow the status of the historic city to be changed,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an opening address. “We must prevent other countries following the U.S. example.”

The events in Gaza have also sparked a diplomatic row between Turkey and Israel, with both countries expelling each other’s senior diplomats this week.

The plight of Palestinians resonates with many Turks, particularly the nationalist and religious voters who form the base of support for Erdogan, running for re-election next month.

TRADE TIES

Despite the rhetoric, Israel was the 10th-biggest market for Turkish exports in 2017, buying some $3.4 billion of goods, according to IMF statistics.

“We have excellent economic ties with Turkey. And these relations are very important for both sides,” Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon told Israel Radio on Friday when asked if Israel should break ties with Turkey.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to move the embassy reversed decades of U.S. policy, upsetting the Arab world and Western allies.

Guatemala this week became the second country to move its embassy to the holy city, and Paraguay said it would follow suit this month.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iranian television after arriving in Istanbul that “Israel’s recent crimes in Palestine and the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem need serious coordination between Islamic countries and the international community”.

U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein on Friday said Israel had systematically deprived Palestinians of their human rights, with 1.9 million people in Gaza “caged in a toxic slum from birth to death”.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Netanyahu accuses Palestinian leader of anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem April 15, 2018. Gali Tibbon/Pool via Reuters/File Photo

By Stephen Farrell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Mahmoud Abbas of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial on Wednesday after the Palestinian leader suggested in a speech that historic persecution of European Jews had been caused by their conduct.

Jewish groups also condemned Abbas’ comments, made in a speech on Monday to the Palestinian National Council, that Jews had suffered historically not because of their religion but because they had served as bankers and money lenders.

“It would appear that, once a Holocaust denier, always a Holocaust denier,” Netanyahu said on Twitter.

“I call upon the international community to condemn the grave anti-Semitism of Abu Mazen (Abbas), which should have long since passed from this world.”

Abbas said in his speech that Jews living in Europe had suffered massacres “every 10 to 15 years in some country since the 11th century and until the Holocaust”.

Citing books written by various authors, Abbas argued: “They say hatred against Jews was not because of their religion, it was because of their social profession. So the Jewish issue that had spread against the Jews across Europe was not because of their religion, it was because of usury and banks.”

“CLASSIC ANTI-SEMITE”

Netanyahu’s criticism was echoed by Jewish leaders around the world.

“Abbas’ speech in Ramallah are the words of a classic anti-Semite,” said Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper of the U.S.-based Jewish human rights organization the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

“Instead of blaming the Jews, he should look in his own backyard to the role played by the Grand Mufti in supporting Adolf Hitler’s Final Solution,” they added.

They were referring to Muslim Grand Mufti Haj Amin Husseini, a World War Two ally of Adolf Hitler, whose “Final Solution” led to the killing of six million Jews in Europe.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman tweeted that Abbas had “reached a new low in attributing the cause of massacres of Jewish people over the years to their ‘social behavior'”.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and the foreign service of the European Union, the biggest donor of aid to the Palestinians, also condemned the comments.

“We reject any relativisation of the Holocaust,” Maas told Die Welt daily.

“Germany bears responsibility for the most atrocious crime of human history,” he said, adding the memory of the Holocaust was a constant reminder to tackle any form of anti-Semitism.

The European External Action Service in Brussels said in a statement: “Such rhetoric (about the Jews) will only play into the hands of those who do not want a two-state solution, which President Abbas has repeatedly advocated.”

Abbas’ spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah declined comment on the criticism.

Abbas, 82, made his remarks in the West Bank city of Ramallah at a rare meeting of the Palestinian National Council, the de facto parliament of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which Abbas heads.

A veteran member of Fatah, the dominant faction of the PLO, Abbas served for decades as a loyal deputy of his predecessor, Yasser Arafat. He assumed the leadership of Fatah, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority after Arafat died in 2004.

Abbas was born in 1935 in Safat, a town in the north of what was then British-ruled Palestine. His family became refugees in 1948, fleeing across the border to Syria as violence intensified between Jews and Arabs, culminating in war between the newly created State of Israel and its Arab neighbors in May 1948.

In 1982 Abbas obtained a doctorate in history at the Moscow Institute of Orientalism in the then-Soviet Union. His dissertation, entitled “The Secret Relationship between Nazism and the Zionist Movement”, drew widespread criticism from Jewish groups, who accused him of Holocaust denial.

(Additional reporting by Berlin and Brussels bureaus; Reporting by Stephen Farrell, Nidal al-Mughrabi, Ali Sawfta, Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Israel accuses French consulate employee of smuggling guns to Palestinians

Romain Franck, an employee of the French consulate-general in Jerusalem, appears with co-defendants in the district court in Beersheba, Israel, March 19, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel said on Monday it had arrested a French citizen, an employee of France’s consulate in Jerusalem, on suspicion of using a diplomatic car to smuggle guns from the Islamist Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Held since Feb 15, Romain Franck is accused of moving a total of 70 pistols and two assault rifles between the Palestinian territories on at least five occasions, the Shin Bet security agency said after a gag order on the case was lifted.

Franck “acted for financial profit, on his own initiative and without the knowledge of his superiors,” a Shin Bet statement said. He is not believed to have also had an ideological motives such as support for Palestinian militants, a Shin Bet official told Reuters.

“This is a very serious incident in which the immunity and privileges granted to foreign diplomatic missions in Israel were cynically exploited to smuggle dozens of weapons that may be used for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces,” the statement said.

Franck, 23, was due to appear at a 1230 GMT Israeli court hearing at which formal charges would be filed. His lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment on how Franck might plead.

A Facebook page under the name Roman Franck, and carrying photographs that looked similar to the mugshot published by the Shin Bet, shows images of the young man against desert vistas.

“Feeling good in Palestine,” says one caption.

A Jan. 17 posting said the Facebook account-holder was “traveling to Jerusalem starting to (sic) a new adventure”.

A spokesman for the French Embassy in Tel Aviv described Franck as “a member of the consulate-general in Jerusalem” and said France was taking the case seriously and cooperating with Israeli authorities.

Franck was arrested along with a Palestinian from East Jerusalem employed as a security guard at the consulate as well as seven other suspects, the Shin Bet said.

It accused him of using a consulate-owned sports utility vehicle, which enjoyed more cursory Israeli security checks due to its diplomatic status, to bring the factory-produced guns from Gaza to Palestinian arms dealers in the West Bank.

According to the Shin Bet statement, Franck received the guns from a Palestinian employed by the French Cultural Centre in Gaza. It could not immediately be reached for comment.

Most countries keep their embassies to Israel in Tel Aviv, as well as consulates in Jerusalem that handle diplomatic outreach to the Palestinians.

Israel counts all of Jerusalem as its capital, a status not recognized abroad although the United States, breaking with other world powers, plans to move its embassy in Israel to the city in May.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they seek to establish in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

(Reporting by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Toby Chopra)

Palestinian killed in anti-U.S. protests after U.N. vote on Jerusalem

A Palestinian demonstrator uses a slingshot to hurl stones towards Israeli troops during clashes at a protest as Palestinians call for a "Day of Rage" in response to U.S. President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, in the West Bank city of Hebron December 22, 2017.

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) – Palestinians launched more anti-U.S. protests on Friday, and at least one demonstrator was killed in the Gaza Strip, a health official said, after the U.N. General Assembly rejected Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Smoke billowed from burning tires at a demonstration in Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank, two days before Christmas celebrations in the biblical town.

Israeli gunfire killed a 24-year-old Palestinian and wounded 10 other protesters during a stone-throwing demonstration in the southern Gaza Strip, a spokesman for the Palestinian Health Ministry there said. The Israeli military said it was checking the report.

One of the wounded, part of a crowd that approached the border fence chanting that U.S. President Donald Trump was a “fool” and a “coward”, was dressed as Santa Claus, witnesses said.

Protests erupted in all of the West Bank’s seven cities and in East Jerusalem. Health officials said at least five Palestinians were wounded by rubber bullets fired by Israeli security forces, who also used tear gas.

Defying the United States on Thursday, the U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution calling for the United States to drop its Dec. 6 recognition of Jerusalem, a city revered by Jews, Muslims and Christians, as Israel’s capital.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in a Christmas message, condemned Trump’s reversal of a decades-old U.S. policy on Jerusalem “an insult to millions of people worldwide, and also to the city of Bethlehem”.

“HOUSE OF LIES”

Israel considers Jerusalem its eternal and indivisible capital. Palestinians want the capital of an independent Palestinian state 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.

Most countries regard the status of Jerusalem as a matter to be settled in an eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, although that process is now stalled.

Nine countries voted against the U.N. resolution and 35 abstained. Twenty-one countries did not cast a vote.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Gaza’s dominant Hamas Islamists, called the U.N. vote a defeat for Trump, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected it as “preposterous” and branded the U.N. a “house of lies”.

But Michael Oren, Israel’s deputy minister for diplomacy, seemed to play down the support for the resolution shown by many countries Israel considers friends.

“We have an interest in tightening our bilateral relations with a long list of countries in the world, and expect and hope that one day, they will vote with us, or for us in the United Nations,” Oren said on Tel Aviv radio station 102 FM.

“But I am not prepared to suspend all cooperation with important countries, such as India,” he said. Netanyahu, who hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July, is due to visit New Delhi next month.

Palestinians have protested daily since Trump’s Jerusalem announcement, throwing stones at Israeli security forces. Gaza militants have also launched sporadic rocket fire.

Friday’s death in Gaza raised to nine the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli gunfire during the demonstrations, Palestinian health officials said, and dozens have been wounded. Two militants were killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza after a rocket attack. There have been no Israeli fatalities or significant injuries.

“EXCESSIVE FORCE”

Amnesty International on Friday called on Israeli authorities to stop using “excessive force”.

“The fact that live ammunition has been used during protests in Gaza and the West Bank is particularly shocking,” it said.

In the run-up to the U.N. vote, Trump threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that supported the resolution. His warning appeared to have some impact, with more countries abstaining and rejecting the document than usually associated with Palestinian-related resolutions.

But most of the European Union, Israel’s biggest trading partner, and countries such as Greece, Cyprus and India, with which Netanyahu has pursued closer relations and economic ties, backed the resolution.

“I prefer we have tight bilateral relations over a situation in which we don’t have close bilateral relations, and they vote in our favor in the United Nations,” Oren said, describing India’s vote as “certainly disappointing”.

Asked if Israel wanted the United States to cut aid to countries that endorsed the resolution, Oren said: “I prefer … that if there’s room for revenge, it be directed towards the United Nations and not the U.N.’s members.”

He said he supported cutting U.S. contributions to the U.N. and perhaps relocating its New York headquarters, noting it occupies “some of the most valuable real estate in New York”.

(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Michelle Nichols at the U.N.; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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)

Palestinians may seek U.N. Assembly support if U.S. vetoes Jerusalem resolution

A protester carries a Palestinian flag at the end of a demonstration against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital opposite to the American embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel December 12, 2017.

DUBAI (Reuters) – The Palestinian leadership may turn to the U.N. General Assembly if Washington vetoes a draft U.N. Security Council resolution to reaffirm Jerusalem’s status as unresolved, after President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize it as Israel’s capital.

The Palestinian United Nations envoy raised this option in remarks published in Saudi daily Arab News on Monday, ahead of a Security Council vote on an Egyptian-drafted resolution about Jerusalem’s status which the United States is expected to veto.

The draft says any “decisions and actions which purport to have altered the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded”.

Trump’s Dec. 6 decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the U.S. Embassy to the city has provoked widespread anger and protests among Palestinians as well as broad international criticism, including from top U.S. allies.

Israel says Jerusalem is its indivisible capital. It captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move never recognized internationally. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state they seek in territory Israel captured a half century ago.

Arab News quoted Ambassador Riyad Mansour as saying that the Palestinians and Egyptians have worked closely with Security Council members while drafting the resolution to ensure that it gets overwhelming support.

“The Europeans in particular asked us to avoid terms like ‘denounce’ and ‘condemn,’ and not to mention the U.S. by name,” it quoted Mansour as saying. “We acceded to their request but kept the active clauses rejecting all changes to Jerusalem and the reaffirmation of previous decisions.”

Israel has long accused the United Nations of bias against it in its conflict with the Palestinians and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Trump’s move again on Sunday.

The Palestinians have the option of invoking a rarely-used article of the U.N. Charter that calls for parties to a dispute not to cast a veto, Arab News said. But, it said, they are more likely to take the issue to the General Assembly under Resolution 377A, known as the “Uniting for Peace” resolution.

Resolution 377A was passed in 1950 and used to authorize the deployment of U.S. troops to fight in the Korean war.

Mansour said Palestinians resorted to the “Uniting for Peace” resolution in the 1990s after Israel began building a settlement on Jabal Abut Ghnaim, a hilltop on occupied West Bank land south of Jerusalem, but left that session in suspension. However, they could seek a resumption of the session, he said.

“If the resolution is vetoed, the Palestinian delegation can send a letter to the U.N. Secretary General and ask him to resume the emergency session,” he said, according to Arab News.

(Reporting by Sami Aboudi; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Erdogan says Turkey seeking to annul Trump decision on Jerusalem at U.N.

Erdogan says Turkey seeking to annul Trump decision on Jerusalem at U.N.

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey is launching an initiative at the United Nations to annul a decision by the United States to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday.

Erdogan was speaking two days after a Muslim leaders meeting in Istanbul condemned U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision, calling on the world to respond by recognizing East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.

“We will work for the annulment of this unjust decision firstly at the UN Security Council, and if a veto comes from there, the General Assembly,” Erdogan told crowds gathered in the central Anatolian city of Konya via teleconference.

The United States is a permanent Security Council member with veto powers, meaning any move to overturn Washington’s decision at the council would certainly be blocked.

Jerusalem, revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, is home to Islam’s third holiest site and has been at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades. Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it in an action not recognized internationally.

Trump’s decision broke with decades of U.S. policy and international consensus that the city’s status must be left to Israeli-Palestinian talks, leading to harsh criticisms from Muslim countries and Israel’s closest European allies, who have also rejected the move.

A communique issued after Wednesday’s summit of more than 50 Muslim countries, including U.S. allies, said they considered Trump’s move to be a declaration that Washington was withdrawing from its role “as sponsor of peace” in the Middle East.

Asked about the criticism during an interview with Israel’s Makor Rishon daily, the U.S. ambassador to Israel said Trump had done “what is good for America”.

“President Trump…does not intend to reverse himself, despite the various condemnations and declarations,” Ambassador David Friedman said.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Dominic Evans and William Maclean)

Muslim leaders call on world to recognize East Jerusalem as Palestinian capital

Muslim leaders call on world to recognize East Jerusalem as Palestinian capital

By Ali Kucukgocmen

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Muslim leaders on Wednesday condemned U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and called on the world to respond by recognizing East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who hosted the summit of more than 50 Muslim countries in Istanbul, said the U.S. move meant Washington had forfeited its role as broker in efforts to end Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“From now on, it is out of the question for a biased United States to be a mediator between Israel and Palestine, that period is over,” Erdogan said at the end of the meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation member states.

“We need to discuss who will be a mediator from now on. This needs to be tackled in the U.N. too,” Erdogan said.

A communique posted on the Turkish Foreign Ministry website said the emirs, presidents and ministers gathered in Istanbul regarded Trump’s move “as an announcement of the U.S. Administration’s withdrawal from its role as sponsor of peace”.

It described the decision as “a deliberate undermining of all peace efforts, an impetus (for) extremism and terrorism, and a threat to international peace and security”.

Leaders including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and Jordan’s King Abdullah, a close U.S. ally, all criticized Washington’s move.

“Jerusalem is and always will be the capital of Palestine,” Abbas said, adding Trump’s decision was “the greatest crime” and a violation of international law.

Asked about the criticism at a State Department briefing in Washington, spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that despite the “inflammatory rhetoric” from the region, Trump “is committed to this peace process.”

“That type of rhetoric that we heard has prevented peace in the past,” she said, urging people to “ignore some of the distortions” and focus on what Trump actually said. She said his decision did not affect the city’s final borders, which were dependent upon negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians.

But when asked whether East Jerusalem could similarly be recognized as the capital of a future Palestinian state, Nauert said that determination should be left to final status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

“We’re taking a position on how we view Jerusalem,” she said. “I think it’s up to the Israelis and Palestinians to decide how they want to view the borders – again final status negotiations.”

Abbas told OIC leaders in Istanbul that Washington had shown it could no longer be an honest broker.

“It will be unacceptable for it to have a role in the political process any longer since it is biased in favor of Israel,” he said. “This is our position and we hope you support us in this.”

“PALESTINIAN CAPITAL”

Jerusalem, revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, is home to Islam’s third holiest site and has been at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades. Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it in an action not recognized internationally.

The communique on the Turkish ministry website and a separate “Istanbul Declaration” distributed to journalists after the meeting said the leaders called on all countries to recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.

“We invite the Trump administration to reconsider its unlawful decision that might trigger…chaos in the region, and to rescind its mistaken step,” the declaration said.

Iran, locked in a regional rivalry with Saudi Arabia, said the Muslim world should overcome internal problems through dialogue so it could unite against Israel. Tehran has repeatedly called for the destruction of the Israeli state and backs several militant groups in their fight against it.

“America is only seeking to secure the maximum interests of the Zionists and it has no respect for the legitimate rights of Palestinians,” Rouhani told the summit.

King Abdullah, whose country signed a peace treaty with Israel more than 20 years ago, said he rejected any attempt to alter the status quo of Jerusalem and its holy sites.

Abdullah’s Hashemite dynasty is custodian of Jerusalem’s Muslim sites, making Amman sensitive to any changes in the city.

Not all countries were represented by heads of government. Some sent ministers and Saudi Arabia, another close ally of Washington’s, sent a junior foreign minister.

Summit host Turkey has warned that Trump’s decision would plunge the world into “a fire with no end in sight”.

Erdogan described it as reward for Israeli actions including occupation, settlement construction, land seizure and “disproportionate violence and murder”.

“Israel is an occupying state (and) Israel is a terror state,” he told the summit.

“I invite all countries supporting international law to recognize Jerusalem as the occupied capital of Palestine,” Erdogan told OIC leaders and officials.

Trump’s declaration has been applauded by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said Washington had an irreplaceable part to play in the region.

(Additional reporting by Daren Butler and Parisa Hafezi in Istanbul, Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara, John Davison and Nadine Awadalla in Cairo, Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and David Alexander in Washington; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Catherine Evans, William Maclean)

Israel closes Gaza border crossings after Palestinian rocket strikes

Israel closes Gaza border crossings after Palestinian rocket strikes

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel announced the closure of its Gaza border crossings on Thursday in response to daily rocket fire from the enclave over the past week after U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital stoked Palestinian anger.

Israeli aircraft struck three facilities belonging to Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, before dawn on Thursday after the latest rocket attacks, Israel’s military said.

It said it targeted training camps and weapons storage compounds. Hamas usually evacuates such facilities when border tensions spike.

Two of the rockets fired by militants were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system and a third exploded in an open area. There were no reports of casualties on either side of the frontier.

The military said in a statement that “due to the security events and in accordance with security assessments” Kerem Shalom crossing – the main passage point for goods entering the Gaza Strip, and the Erez pedestrian crossing – would be shut as of Thursday. It did not say how long the closure would last.

Some 15 rockets have been fired into southern Israel since Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement, and none of the projectiles has caused serious injury or damage.

The attacks have drawn Israeli air strikes that have killed two Hamas gunmen. Two other Palestinians have been killed in confrontations with Israeli troops during stone-throwing protests along the border.

Israeli cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi said on Israel Radio that while Hamas, which last fought a war with Israel in 2014, was not carrying out the rocket strikes, it needed to rein in militants from “breakaway groups” or it would “find itself in a situation where it has to contend” with the Israeli military.

In Istanbul on Wednesday, a summit of more than 50 Muslim countries condemned Trump’s move and called on the world to respond by recognizing East Jerusalem, captured by Israel along with the West Bank in a 1967 war, as the capital of Palestine.

Trump’s declaration has been applauded by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a recognition of political reality and Jews’s biblical links to Jerusalem, a city that is also holy to Muslims and Christians.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Edmund Blair)

Palestinian leader says Trump’s Jerusalem ‘crime’ prevents U.S. peace role

Palestinian leader says Trump's Jerusalem 'crime' prevents U.S. peace role

By Ali Kucukgocmen

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Muslim leaders on Wednesday that a U.S. decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was a crime which showed that Washington should no longer play a role in Middle East peace talks.

Addressing an emergency meeting of Muslim leaders in Turkey, Abbas said President Donald Trump was giving Jerusalem away as if it were an American city.

“Jerusalem is and always will be the capital of Palestine,” he said, adding Trump’s decision was “the greatest crime” and a violation of international law.

Wednesday’s summit was hosted by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan who has bitterly criticized the United States, a NATO ally, for its stance on Jerusalem.

“I invite all countries supporting international law to recognise Jerusalem as the occupied capital of Palestine. We cannot be late any more,” Erdogan told leaders and ministers from more than 50 Muslim countries.

He described Trump’s decision last week as a reward for Israeli actions including occupation, settlement construction, land seizure and “disproportionate violence and murder”.

“Israel is an occupying state (and) Israel is a terror state,” he said.

Jerusalem, revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, is home to Islam’s third holiest site and has been at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades. Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it in an action not recognised internationally.

Ahead of the meeting, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Muslim nations should urge the world to recognise East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state within its pre-1967 borders.

He said this week Turkey was not seeking sanctions in response to the U.S. move, but wanted the summit to issue a strong rejection of the U.S. decision.

U.S. ‘BIAS’

The Trump administration says it remains committed to reaching peace between Israel and the Palestinians and its decision does not affect Jerusalem’s future borders or status.

It says any credible future peace deal will place the Israeli capital in Jerusalem, and ditching old policies is needed to revive a peace process frozen since 2014.

Abbas told the leaders in Istanbul that Washington could no longer be an honest broker.

“It will be unacceptable for it to have a role in the political process any longer since it is biased in favour of Israel,” he said. “This is our position and we hope you support us in this.”

Trump’s declaration has been applauded by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said Washington had an irreplaceable part to play in the region.

“There is no substitute to the role that the United States plays in leading the peace process,” he said at a Hanukkah holiday candle lighting ceremony on Tuesday.

King Abdullah of Jordan, which signed a peace treaty with Israel more than 20 years ago, told the Istanbul summit that he rejected any attempt to change the status quo of Jerusalem and its holy sites.

Abdullah’s Hashemite dynasty is custodian of Jerusalem’s Muslim sites, making Amman sensitive to any changes in the city.

Iran, locked in a regional rivalry with Saudi Arabia, said the Muslim world should overcome internal problems through dialogue so it could unite against Israel.

Tehran has repeatedly called for the destruction of the Israeli state and backs several militant groups in their fight against it.

“America is only seeking to secure the maximum interests of the Zionists and it has no respect for the legitimate rights of Palestinians,” President Hassan Rouhani told the summit.

(Additional reporting by Daren Butler and Parisa Hafezi in Istanbul, John Davison and Nadine Awadalla in Cairo and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Catherine Evans, William Maclean)