Trump tells Israel peace means compromise; U.S. envoy under fire

An Israeli flag is seen near the Dome of the Rock, located in Jerusalem's Old City on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount December 6, 2017.

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump told Israel on Friday that it too would need to make “significant compromises” for peace with the Palestinians, even as they accused one of his Middle East envoys of bogging down diplomacy with what they see as pro-Israel bias.

The Palestinians were outraged by Trump’s Dec. 6 recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, a move overturning decades of U.S. reticence on the city’s status, and say they are looking at additional world powers as potential mediators.

In an interview with an Israeli newspaper that was excerpted ahead of its full publication on Sunday, Trump described his Jerusalem move as a “high point” of his first year in office.

The language of Trump’s announcement did not rule out a presence in Jerusalem for the Palestinians, who want the eastern part of the city – captured by Israel in a 1967 war and annexed in a move not recognized internationally – as their own capital.

“I wanted to make clear that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Regarding specific borders, I will grant my support to what the two sides agree between themselves,” he told the conservative Israel Hayom daily, in remarks published in Hebrew.

“I think that both sides will have to make significant compromises in order for achieving a peace deal to be possible,” Trump added, without elaborating.

The interview coincided with fresh strains between the Palestinians and the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, following the killing by a Palestinian of a Jewish settler.

After the settler was stabbed to death on Monday, Friedman tweeted that he had previously donated an ambulance to the slain man’s community and that he was praying for the next-of-kin, adding: “Palestinian ‘leaders’ have praised the killer.”

That drew a rebuke from the Palestinian administration.

“The American ambassador’s statements make us wonder about his relationship with the occupation,” Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas, said in a statement. “Is he representing America or Israel?”

“Friedman’s recommendations and advice, which do not aim to achieve a just peace on the basis of international legitimacy, are what led to this crisis in American-Palestinian relations,” Abu Rdainah said.

Friedman, among the top Trump advisers who promoted the Jerusalem move, is a former contributor to settler causes.

In addition to East Jerusalem, Palestinians want the occupied West Bank for a future state and see Israel’s Jewish settlements there as a major obstacle. Israel disputes this.

Most world powers deem the settlements illegal, but the Trump administration has taken a softer tack.

A liberal Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, published a column criticizing Friedman’s stance and dubbing the settlement he had supported as “a mountain of curses” – a play on its Hebrew name, Har Bracha, which means “Mount Blessing”.

The ambassador took the unusual step of firing back at the daily in another tweet on Friday: “Four young children are sitting shiva (Jewish mourning rite) for their murdered father …. Have they (Haaretz) no decency?”

Haaretz’s publisher, Amos Shocken, responded over the platform with a critique that echoed Palestinian complaints.

“As long as the policy of Israel that your Government and yourself support is obstructing (the) peace process … there will be more Shivas,” Shocken tweeted.

(Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by William Maclean)

Turkey detains 300 people over criticism of Syrian offensive

Turkish military armoured vehicles arrive at a border village near the town of Hassa in Hatay province, Turkey.

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey has detained more than 300 people for social media posts criticizing its military offensive in Syria, the government said on Monday, a day after President Tayyip Erdogan accused doctors who opposed the campaign of betrayal.

Since launching its 10-day-old air and ground offensive against the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria’s northwestern region of Afrin, Turkish authorities have warned they would prosecute those opposing, criticizing or misrepresenting the incursion.

The Interior Ministry said on Monday a total of 311 people had been held for “spreading terrorist propaganda” on social media in the last 10 days. Detainees have included politicians, journalists and activists.

Turkey considers the U.S.-backed YPG, which controls Afrin, to be a terrorist group and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has fought an insurgency in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast since 1984.

The military operation has been widely supported by Turkey’s mainly pro-government media and by most political parties, with the exception of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). But there have been dissenting voices.

Over the weekend, Turkish media reported that 170 artists had written an open letter to lawmakers from Erdogan’s ruling AK Party calling for an immediate end to Turkey’s incursion.

Last week the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) denounced the cross-border operation, saying “No to war, peace immediately.”

On Sunday, Erdogan accused the union of treason. “Believe me, they are not intellectuals at all, they are a gang of slaves. They are the servants of imperialism,” he told AK Party members in the northern province of Amasya.

“This ‘No to war’ cry by this mob … is nothing other than the outburst of the betrayal in their souls … This is real filth, this is the honorless stance that should be said ‘no’ to,” Erdogan said.

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Twitter on Saturday that the TTB and the Turkish Engineer and Architect Chambers Association (TMMOB), which has backed the medics, cannot use the word “Turkish” in their names, saying they did not represent Turkish medics, engineers and architects.

In a statement on Friday, the TTB said it rejected the accusations directed at it, adding remarks by senior government officials had made it a target of attacks. The Interior Ministry said later it had started an investigation into the association’s actions.

On Monday, prosecutors launched an investigation into 11 members of the TTB’s central administration over the association’s “war is a public problem” remarks, the Hurriyet newspaper reported.

Since a failed coup in 2016, Ankara has enforced a crackdown that saw more than 50,000 people jailed and 150,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs, including members of the pro-Kurdish opposition party. The government says the moves were necessary given the security threats Turkey faces.

Critics accuse the government of unjustly targeting pro-Kurdish politicians. Some lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have been jailed on terrorism charges, which they deny.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Toby Chopra)

European powers urge Trump to preserve Iran nuclear deal

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson attends a news conference with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, German counterpart Sigmar Gabriel and European Union's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini after meeting Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (unseen) in Brussels, Belgium January 11, 2018.

By Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Britain, France and Germany called on Donald Trump on Thursday to uphold a pact curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions on the eve of a sanctions ruling by the U.S. president they fear could torpedo an accord he has relentlessly criticized.

Hailed by its admirers as key to stopping Iran from building a nuclear bomb, the deal lifted economic sanctions in exchange for Tehran limiting its nuclear program. It was also signed by China, France, Russia, Britain, Germany and the European Union.

The U.S. Congress requires the president to periodically certify Iran’s compliance and issue a waiver to allow U.S sanctions to remain suspended. The next deadline is on Friday.

In sharp contrast to Trump’s view that the 2015 pact was “the worst deal ever negotiated”, the foreign ministers of the three countries and the EU’s top diplomat said there was no alternative to it and that sanctions should remain lifted.

“We agree on this approach, we want to protect (the deal) against every possible decision that might undermine it,” Germany’s Sigmar Gabriel said alongside his French and British counterparts and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini after meeting Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

“It is absolutely necessary to have this to prevent the development of nuclear weapons at a time when other parts of the world are discussing how to get them,” Gabriel said, later specifically mentioning North Korea in his remarks.

Trump’s choice comes at a delicate time for Iran’s government, which faced protests over economic hardships and corruption that are linked to frustration among younger Iranians who hoped to see more benefits from the lifting of sanctions.

The meeting in Brussels was choreographed to send a message to Washington before Trump is due to decide whether to re-impose oil sanctions lifted under the deal. If that happens, Iran has said it would no longer be bound by the pact and could return to producing enriched uranium.

Zarif tweeted that the Brussels meeting had shown a “strong consensus” that Iran was complying with the pact, had the right to enjoy its economic benefits and “any move that undermines (it) is unacceptable”.

“E3 (Germany, France and Britain) and EU fully aware that Iran’s continued compliance (is) conditioned on full compliance by the US,” Zarif added.

European countries have benefited from renewed trade with Iran as sanctions have been lifted, while U.S. companies are still largely barred from doing business with the Islamic Republic due to other sanctions unrelated to the nuclear issue..

“GOOD NEIGHBOUR”

“The deal is working. It is delivering on its main goal which means keeping the Iranian nuclear program in check and under close surveillance,” Mogherini said, adding that the International Atomic Energy Agency had shown in nine reports that Iran is meeting its commitments.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the pact was also a way for Iran to show it was “a good neighbour” in the region by complying.

Trump formally rejected the deal in October, although the United States has not yet pulled out.

That major shift in U.S. policy put the United States at odds with its European allies, as well as Russia and China that are also signatories to the nuclear accord, in the most visible transatlantic split on foreign policy since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

European governments are troubled by Trump’s “America first” rhetoric and inconsistent statements on NATO and the European Union, while they consider the Iran nuclear deal one of West’s the biggest diplomatic achievements in decades.

In a gesture to Trump, France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Paris shared Washington’s concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile program and involvement in wars in Yemen and Syria, but stressed the nuclear deal should still stand.

“We do not hide other disagreements, which exist … both in the ballistic field and over Iran’s actions in the whole region,” Le Drian said.

Tehran has repeatedly vowed to continue building up its ballistic missile arsenal, one of the biggest in the Middle East, saying it is for defense purposes only. The West sees it as a threat and has installed a U.S.-built missile shield in southeastern Europe, under NATO command.

Gabriel said Zarif agreed at the Brussels meeting to discuss the issues in a more regular and structured way, but diplomats said there was no immediate timetable for talks.

(Additional reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek and Peter Maushagen; Editing by Robin Pomeroy, William Maclean)

NBC plans to show player protests if they occur at Super Bowl

Some members of the Cleveland Browns team kneel, while others stand, during the National Anthem before the start of their game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, U.S., September 24, 2017. USA TODAY

By Lisa Richwine

PASADENA, California (Reuters) – U.S. television network NBC, broadcaster of this year’s Super Bowl, will show any players who kneel during the pre-game national anthem to protest racial inequality, the game’s executive producer said on Tuesday.

Several dozen National Football League players kneeled, sat or locked arms during “The Star-Spangled Banner” in the regular season, drawing rebukes from President Donald Trump who called it unpatriotic. Game broadcasters showed the protests during the initial weeks but reduced coverage of them later.

The anthem is typically shown live before the Super Bowl and this year will be performed by pop singer Pink at the Feb. 4 championship.

If any players decide to kneel at the Super Bowl, NBC will cover it, executive producer Fred Gaudelli said at a Television Critics Association event in Pasadena, California.

“When you are covering a live event, you are covering what’s happening,” Gaudelli said. “If there are players who choose to kneel, they will be shown live.”

Announcers likely will identify the players, explain the reasons behind the actions, “and then get on with the game,” Gaudelli said.

He also noted that the number of protests had waned since Thanksgiving.

The players who kneeled during the regular season said they were protesting the killing by police of unarmed black men and boys across the United States, as well as racial disparities in the criminal justice system. More than half of all NFL players are black.

The Super Bowl is the year’s most-watched U.S. television broadcast, attracting an audience of more than 100 million people. NBC is a unit of Comcast Corp.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Lootings, scattered protests hit Venezuelan industrial city

A general view of the damage at a mini-market after it was looted in Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela January 9, 2018.

By Maria Ramirez

CIUDAD GUAYANA, Venezuela (Reuters) – A second day of lootings and scattered street protests hit the Ciudad Guayana in southeastern Venezuela on Tuesday, as unrest grows in the once-booming industrial city plagued with food shortages and a malaria outbreak.

At least five food stores were looted overnight, with police sources saying some 20 people had been arrested. Angry Venezuelans also blocked three major roads to demand anti-malaria medicine, food, cooking gas and spare parts for trucks.

There has been increasing unrest around the South American OPEC member in the last few weeks as a fourth straight year of painful recession and the world’s highest inflation leaves millions unable to eat enough.

Erika Garcia tearfully recounted how looters ransacked her food shop and home just 10 minutes after National Guard soldiers who had been patrolling the area withdrew late on Monday night.

“They stole everything. They broke off the water pipes, they ripped off the toilet bowl, they took away the windows, the fences, the doors, the beds. Everything. They did not kill us because we ran, but they did beat us up,” said Garcia, 38, who planned to sleep at a relative’s house on Tuesday night

She said there was no way she could reopen her store.

The overnight lootings follow at least four similar in the early hours of Monday. Around 10 liquor stores were also looted on Christmas day in southeastern Bolivar state, according to the local chamber of commerce head Florenzo Schettino.

Critics blame President Nicolas Maduro and the ruling Socialist Party for Venezuela’s economic mess, saying they have persisted with failed statist policies for too long while turning a blind eye to rampant corruption and suffering.

The government says it is the victim of an “economic war” by political opponents and right-wing foreign powers, intent on bringing down Maduro in a coup. The Information Ministry did not respond to a request for comment about the lootings on Tuesday.

The wave of plunder has spooked many in Ciudad Guyana, leading more people to stay indoors come nightfall and dissuading some stores from opening.

Metal worker Alvaro Becerra lives near a store that was ransacked overnight.

“We lived a night of terror,” said Becerra, 52, adding he heard gunshots and saw people carrying a freezer full of food.

“Today everything is closed. There’s no place to buy. The only people who are working are those who sell vegetables,” he said.

(Reporting by Maria Ramirez; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

In jab at rivals, Rouhani says Iran protests about more than economy

: Iran's President Hassan Rouhani delivers remarks at a news conference during the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, U.S. September 20, 2017.

By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin

LONDON (Reuters) – In a swipe at his hardline rivals, President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday young Iranian protesters were unhappy about far more than just the economy and they would no longer defer to the views and lifestyle of an aging revolutionary elite.

The pragmatic cleric, who defeated anti-Western hardliners to win re-election last year, also called for the lifting of curbs on social media used by anti-government protesters in the most sustained challenge to conservative authorities since 2009.

“It would be a misrepresentation (of events) and also an insult to Iranian people to say they only had economic demands,” Rouhani was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency.

“People had economic, political and social demands.”

Rouhani, 69, suggested there was a generational element to the unrest, which appears to have been spearheaded by under-25s.

“We cannot pick a lifestyle and tell two generations after us to live like that. It is impossible… The views of the young generation about life and the world is different than ours,” he said.

The Revolutionary Guards, Iran’s security backbone since the 1979 revolution that created the Islamic Republic, said on Sunday the security forces had put an end to a week of unrest fomented by what it called foreign enemies.

The protests, which began over economic hardships suffered by the young and working class, spread to more than 80 cities and towns and has resulted in 22 deaths and more than 1,000 arrests, according to Iranian officials.

Hamid Shahriari, the deputy head of the Judiciary said that all ringleaders of the protests had been identified and arrested, and they would be firmly punished and might face capital punishment.

Two Iranian lawmakers said on Monday that a 22-year-old detainee has died in prison.

The director of the Prisons Organization, Mostafa Mohebbi, confirmed the death on the judiciary’s official website and said “Sina Ghanbari has hanged himself in a toilet on Saturday”.

Many of the protesters questioned Iran’s foreign policy in the Middle East, where it has intervened in Syria and Iraq in a battle for influence with rival Saudi Arabia.

IRANIANS CAN CRITICIZE “EVERYONE”

The country’s financial support for Palestinians and the Lebanese Shi‘ite group Hezbollah also angered Iranians, who want their government to focus on domestic economic problems instead.

Rouhani won re-election last year by promising more jobs for Iran’s youth through more foreign investment, as well as more social justice, individual freedom and political tolerance – aims questioned by his main challenger in the contest.

Echoing some of his campaign rhetoric, Rouhani said on Monday people should be allowed to criticize all Iranian officials, with no exception.

Demonstrators initially vented their anger over high prices and alleged corruption, but the protests took on a rare political dimension, with a growing number of people calling on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 78, to step down.

The Supreme Leader is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and appoints the heads of the judiciary. Key ministers are selected with his agreement and he has the ultimate say on Iran’s foreign policy. By comparison, the president has little power.

“No one is innocent and people are allowed to criticize everyone,” said Rouhani.

Rouhani also dismissed calls from hardline clerics who had asked the government to permanently block access social media and messaging apps.

As protests have ebbed, the government has lifted restrictions it imposed on Instagram, one of the social media tools used to mobilize protesters. But access to a more widely used messaging app, Telegram, was still blocked. The government has said the restrictions would be temporary.

“People’s access to social media should not permanently be restricted. We cannot be indifferent to people’s life and business,” Rouhani said.

Morteza Mousavian, head of information technology in the ministry of culture, was quoted as saying by Donya-e-Eqtesad Daily on Sunday that 9,000 business entities have been affected by the ban on Telegram.

Half of Iran’s 80 million population use Telegram.

State television showed live pictures of more pro-government rallies in several cities, including Sanandaj in western Iran, and Sari in north, as marchers carried posters of Ayatollah Khamenei and chanted slogans in his support.

Iranian Vice-President Masoumeh Ebtekar tweeted on Monday that Rouhani has insisted that all detained students should be released.

Mohammad Bathaei, the education minister said on Monday there were many school children among the detainees and he was asking for their release before exam season.

Amnesty International said last week that more than 1,000 Iranians had been arrested and detained in jails “notorious for torture and other ill-treatment over the past seven days”, with many being denied access to families and lawyers.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin, Editing by William Maclean)

After tough year, Hong Kong democracy protesters sound warning to China on New Year’s day

Pro-democracy protesters gather inside civic square, reopened for the first time since Occupy Central movement in 2014, at the government headquarters in Hong Kong, China January 1, 2018.

By Donny Kwok and Wyman Ma

HONG KONG (Reuters) – After a year that saw democracy advocates in Hong Kong jailed and ousted from public office, thousands marched through the streets of Hong Kong on New Year’s Day to warn China not to meddle further in the city’s affairs and undermine its autonomy.

Over the past year, Hong Kong, a former British colony which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, has experienced what critics and pro-democracy activists describe as an intensifying assault on its autonomy by China’s Communist Party leaders.

This is despite Beijing’s promises to grant the city wide-ranging freedoms including an independent judiciary, under a so-called “one country, two systems” framework.

Besides the controversial jailing of several prominent young activists for unlawful assembly over the massive 2014 “Occupy” pro-democracy protests, authorities also ejected six pro-democracy lawmakers from the legislature for failing to take proper oaths of office.

The city’s reputation as one of Asia’s most robust legal jurisdictions has also come under a cloud amidst accusations of a politicization of certain legal cases.

The protesters, who included many middle-aged and elderly citizens, held up banners and chanted the march’s main theme to “Protect Hong Kong” during a walk of several kilometers to the city’s government headquarters.

Others decried an unprecedented move by China’s parliament last week that said part of a high-speed railway station being built in Hong Kong would be regarded as mainland territory governed by mainland laws.

“We are here to tell the government that we will not give up,” said Joshua Wong, one of the democracy activists jailed last year, but who is now out on bail pending an appeal.

“We have encountered many difficulties last year, including some of us being sued and jailed, but we will stand with Hong Kong people. We will fight for the rule of law, fight for Hong Kong, fight for the future, fight for the next generations.”

Two protesters who dressed up as People’s Liberation Army soldiers said they were concerned about the reach of China’s security apparatus. Others called for full democracy as the only lasting means to safeguard the city’s way of life.

The organizers of the march said some 10,000 people had showed up. Police, however, put the figure at 6,200.

The demonstration was largely peaceful, though some protesters who tried to later gather in a forecourt of the government’s headquarters skirmished briefly with security guards.

The so-called “Civic Square” was where the 2014 pro-democracy protests first kicked off when a group of protesters stormed over a fence and faced off with local police.

Despite the defiance on show, some said they feared Hong Kong would continue to be squeezed by Beijing.

“Everyone’s doing what they can,” said Andy Lau who was among the marchers. “If we have the right to demonstrate then we should. But I’m not feeling positive. I think things will get worse.”

The Hong Kong government, in a statement, said it “fully respects the right of Hong Kong people to take part in processions and their freedom of expression”.

China’s leader Xi Jinping has said that while Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of autonomy under “one country, two systems”, Beijing still holds supreme authority over the city and won’t tolerate any challenge to its authority.

(Additional reporting by Chermaine Lee; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Adrian Croft)

Israel changes law to make it harder to cede Jerusalem control

An Israeli flag is seen near the Dome of the Rock, located in Jerusalem's Old City on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount December 6, 2017.

By Maayan Lubell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s parliament passed an amendment on Tuesday that would make it harder for it to cede control over parts of Jerusalem in any peace deal with the Palestinians, who condemned the move as undermining any chance to revive talks on statehood.

The legislation, sponsored by the far-right Jewish Home coalition party, raises to 80 from 61 the number of votes required in the 120-seat Knesset to approve any proposal to hand over part of the city to “a foreign party”.

Last month U.S. President Donald Trump angered the Palestinians, Middle East leaders and world powers by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

As home to major Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy sites, Jerusalem’s status is one of the most sensitive issues in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump’s Dec. 6 decision sparked regional protests and prompted the Palestinians to rule out Washington as a peace broker in any future talks.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, described Trump’s policy shift on Jerusalem and the passage of the amendment as “a declaration of war against the Palestinian people”.

“The vote clearly shows that the Israeli side has officially declared an end to the so-called political process,” Abu Rdainah said, referring to U.S.-sponsored talks on Palestinian statehood that collapsed in 2014.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. It says the entire city is its “eternal and indivisible” capital.

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

The amendment, long in the legislative pipeline, was passed with 64 lawmakers voting in favor and 52 against.

Opposition head Isaac Herzog said Jewish Home was leading Israel “toward a terrible disaster”. Jewish Home’s leader, Naftali Bennett, said the vote showed that Israel would keep control of all of Jerusalem forever.

“There will be no more political skulduggery that will allow our capital to be torn apart,” Bennett said on Twitter.

A bid to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations led by the president’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has so far shown no progress.

On Sunday, Netanyahu’s Likud party unanimously urged legislators in a non-binding resolution to effectively annex Israeli settlements built in the West Bank.

Political commentators said Likud’s decision might bolster right-wing support for Netanyahu, who could seek a public mandate in an early election while he awaits possible criminal indictments against him on corruption suspicions. He denies wrongdoing.

Parliamentary elections are not due until November 2019 but the police investigations in two cases of alleged corruption against Netanyahu and tensions among coalition partners in his government could hasten a poll.

Some commentators, pointing to an existing law that already sets a similar high threshold for handing over territory in a land-for-peace deal, have said Jewish Home was essentially competing with Likud for support among the right-wing base.

(This version of the story refiles to remove extraneous word in paragraph 14.)

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell, additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Thousands of Palestinians take part in anti-Trump protests

A demonstrator holds a sign and a Palestinian flag during clashes with Israeli troops at a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the West Bank city of Nablus, December 29, 2017.

GAZA (Reuters) – Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets of Gaza and the occupied West Bank for the fourth Friday in a row in protests against U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Palestinian health officials said at least 20 protesters were wounded by live fire, mostly along the Gaza border. An Israeli military spokeswoman said soldiers had shot at “main instigators” who posed a direct threat to the troops and who were trying to damage the border security fence.

The spokeswoman said about 4,000 Palestinians across the West Bank and Gaza, some throwing rocks and fire bombs and setting tires alight, confronted Israeli soldiers who responded mainly by firing tear gas.

A Palestinian demonstrator hurls stones towards Israeli troops during clashes at a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the West Bank city of Nablus, December 29, 2017.

A Palestinian demonstrator hurls stones towards Israeli troops during clashes at a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the West Bank city of Nablus, December 29, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

In Gaza, demonstrators chanted “Death to America, death to Israel, and death to Trump” and militants fired rockets into Israel, drawing strikes by Israeli tanks and aircraft.

The military said it targeted posts that belonged to Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Palestinian enclave, after intercepting two of the three rockets fired into Israel. Police said the third struck a building, causing damage. No casualties were reported in those incidents.

Trump outraged Palestinians and sparked anger in the Middle East and among world powers with his Jerusalem declaration on Dec. 6, which reversed decades of U.S. policy on one of the most sensitive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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.

A masked Palestinian demonstrator uses a slingshot to hurl stones towards Israeli troops during clashes at a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the West Bank city

A masked Palestinian demonstrator uses a slingshot to hurl stones towards Israeli troops during clashes at a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the West Bank city of Nablus, December 29, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

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.

A U.N. General Assembly resolution passed on Dec. 21 rejected Trump’s Jerusalem declaration. A total of 128 countries voted for the U.N. resolution. Nine opposed it and 35 abstained. Twenty-one countries did not cast a vote.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Opposition groups quit Iraqi Kurdish government

People are seen outside the Directorate of province building after it was set on fire by Kurdish protesters in Pera magroon district in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq December 19,

SULAIMANIYA, Iraq (Reuters) – Leading Kurdish opposition movement Gorran has withdrawn its ministers from Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and its member Yousif Mohamed has resigned as parliament speaker, party sources told Reuters on Wednesday.

The Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal), another opposition party with a smaller presence in parliament, also withdrew from the government.

The departures follow two days of violent unrest in the region, as Kurdish demonstrators joined protests against years of austerity and unpaid public sector salaries, amid tensions between their region and Baghdad.

Some protesters have demanded the regional government’s ousting.

Tension has been high in the region since the central government in Baghdad imposed tough measures when the KRG unilaterally held an independence referendum on Sept. 25 and Kurds voted overwhelmingly to secede.

The move, in defiance of Baghdad, also alarmed neighboring Turkey and Iran who have their own Kurdish minorities.

At least three people were killed and more than 80 wounded on Tuesday. They were killed in clashes with Kurdish security forces, local officials said, and some were injured when the crowd was shot at with rubber bullets and sprayed with tear gas.

Protesters also attacked several offices of the main political parties in Sulaimaniya province on Monday and Tuesday.

CURFEWS IMPOSED

There were no major protests in the city on Wednesday.

Security forces from the region’s capital Erbil have been deployed to help quell the unrest in the city, security sources told Reuters.

After Tuesday’s unrest, curfews were imposed in several towns across the province, some have lasted through Wednesday.

Local media reported smaller protests in towns across the province, including Ranya and Kifri.

In a statement on Tuesday, Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, who is on an official visit to Germany, told protesters that although he understood their frustrations, the burning of political party offices is “not helpful”.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said on Wednesday it was “deeply concerned” about violence and clashes during the protests, and called for restraint on all sides.

“The people have the right to partake in peaceful demonstrations, and the authorities have the responsibility of protecting their citizens, including peaceful protesters,” UNAMI said in a statement.

UNAMI also called on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to respect media freedoms after Kurdish Asayish security forces on Tuesday raided the offices of Kurdish private broadcast NRT in Sulaimaniya, and took the channel off the air.

NRT’s founder and opposition figure Shaswar Abdulwahid was also arrested at the Sulaimaniya airport on Tuesday. His family have asked for his release, amid reports that another NRT journalist was arrested in Sulaimaniya on Wednesday.

(Additional reporting and writing by Raya Jalabi in Erbil and Ahmed Aboulenein in Baghdad; Editing by William Maclean)