Israel’s Netanyahu to make ‘significant’ announcement on Iran

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, April 29, 2018. Sebastian Scheiner/Pool via Reuters/File Photo

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will make a televised announcement Monday evening (1700 GMT) in what his office said would be a “significant development” regarding the nuclear agreement with Iran.

The announcement will be made from Israel’s military headquarters in Tel Aviv, according to a brief statement from Netanyahu’s office.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will make a statement on a significant development regarding the nuclear agreement with Iran,” the statement said, offering no further details.

Netanyahu met on Sunday with new U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the two had spoken about Iran.

Speaking alongside the Israeli leader, Pompeo said in Tel Aviv: “We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s dangerous escalation of threats towards Israel and the region.”

Netanyahu had said: “I think the greatest threat to the world and to our two countries, and to all countries, is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons, and specifically the attempt of Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw from the 2015 agreement reached between Iran and global powers, which granted Tehran relief from economic sanctions in return for curbs to its nuclear program.

Israel has long opposed the agreement. Washington’s major European allies have urged the Trump administration not to abandon it and argue that Iran is abiding by its terms.

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Peter Graff)

Israel abandons plan to forcibly deport African migrants

FILE PHOTO: A boy takes part in a protest against the Israeli government’s plan to deport African migrants, in Tel Aviv, Israel March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Corinna Kern/File Photo

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Israeli government said on Tuesday it had abandoned a plan to forcibly deport African migrants who entered the country illegally after failing to find a willing country to take in the migrants.

The government had been working for months on an arrangement to expel thousands of mostly Eritrean and Sudanese men who crossed into Israel through Egypt’s Sinai desert.

“At this stage, the possibility of carrying out an unwilling deportation to a third country is not on the agenda,” the government wrote in a response to Israel’s Supreme Court, which has been examining the case.

The migrants will again be able to renew residency permits every 60 days, as they were before the deportation push, the government said.

The migrants and rights groups say they are seeking asylum and are fleeing war and persecution. The government says they are job seekers and that it has every right to protect its borders.

Despite Tuesday’s climbdown, the government said immigration authorities would still try to deport migrants voluntarily, drawing criticism from rights group Amnesty International.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later said that after failing to reach agreement with any country to take them in, he would try to draft legislation that would allow the reopening of detention centers in Israel for the migrants.

The Supreme Court has previously struck down legislation that permits such detention and ordered the facilities shut.

“I’M THRILLED”

The government’s U-turn was welcomed by those targeted for expulsion.

“I’m thrilled. I’m speechless. I was so scared every day. If I can stay here it will be good, I’ve lived here so long – I have a job, I have Israeli friends. I am used to the place,” said Ristom Haliesilase, a 34-year-old Eritrean who lives in Tel Aviv, working as a carer for the elderly.

The fate of some 37,000 Africans in Israel has posed a moral dilemma for a state founded as a haven for Jews from persecution and a national home.

Around 4,000 migrants have left Israel for Rwanda and Uganda since 2013 under a voluntary program, but Netanyahu has come under pressure from his right-wing voter base to expel thousands more.

After pulling out of a U.N.-backed relocation plan a few weeks ago, Israel shifted efforts toward finalizing an arrangement to send the migrants against their will to Uganda.

A number of migrant rights groups then petitioned the Supreme Court to block any such policy.

Amnesty also welcomed Tuesday’s decision but criticized Israel’s plan to continue with voluntary deportations.

“… in reality there is nothing voluntary about them. Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers agree to them under pressure. Israel remains under the obligation not to transfer anyone to a country” where they would be unsafe, said Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Amnesty will closely monitor the deportations, it said.

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell and Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Israel fast-tracks wall, escape route for new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem

FILE PHOTO: View of the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem February 24, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel has expedited construction permits to enable temporary quarters for the U.S. Embassy to open in Jerusalem as planned in May, the Finance Ministry said on Tuesday.

U.S. President Donald Trump in December broke with other world powers by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announcing the U.S. Embassy would be moved there from Tel Aviv.

Trump’s reversal of decades of U.S. and broad international policy was welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “historic decision”. But it drew criticism from around the world and outraged Palestinians, who want a capital for their own future state in eastern parts of the city.

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem December 24, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem December 24, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

Israel has said the Embassy will be opened on May 14, the 70th anniversary of its founding. A U.S. official said it would be located at a provisional site in Jerusalem that now houses a U.S. consular section.

Building a permanent embassy could take several years.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said in a statement that he would empower the Jerusalem municipality to waive the permits that would have been required for a wall and an escape route at the interim site.

“We will not allow needless bureaucracy to hold up the transfer of the American embassy to Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital,” Kahlon said.

“This is a strategic diplomatic move for the State of Israel and the planning agencies under me will do whatever is necessary to accommodate the schedule being demanded.”

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat had voiced concern about the timeline, telling Israel Radio on March 9: “I hope their (Americans’) schedule will be kept.”

The Israeli planning permit waiver for the Embassy will be good for three years, the Finance Ministry statement said.

“Initially, the interim Embassy in (the Jerusalem neighbourhood of) Arnona will contain office space for the Ambassador and a small staff,” said a U.S. Embassy official in Tel Aviv.

“By the end of next year, we intend to open a new Embassy Jerusalem annex on the Arnona compound that will provide the Ambassador and his team with expanded interim office space,” he said, adding that a search for site for the construction of a permanent embassy had begun.

Most countries do not recognise either side’s sovereignty in Jerusalem and have embassies to Israel in the Tel Aviv area.

Netanyahu has described Jerusalem as “the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years”, and Trump said the embassy move was “a long overdue step to advance the peace process”.

Palestinian leaders said Washington’s decision meant it was no longer an honest broker in efforts to revive peace talks, which collapsed in 2014.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Raissa Kasolowsky)

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)

Israeli troops kill Palestinian in West Bank clashes

An Israeli border policeman takes up position during clashes with Palestinian demonstrators at a protest against Trump's decision on Jerusalem, near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank March 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian man during clashes in the occupied West Bank on Friday, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

An Israeli military spokesman said the man had been about to throw a fire-bomb at the troops, who were responding to an immediate threat when they shot him. He added that the incident in the city of Hebron would be reviewed.

U.S.-led peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2014 and a new push by President Donald Trump’s administration to restart negotiations has shown little progress so far.

Tensions between the sides have risen since Trump declared on Dec. 6 that he recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Outraged Palestinian leaders said Washington could no longer take the lead in peace efforts but Israel has said the United States should remain peace-broker.

Trump’s announcement and the planned move in May of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – home to sites holy to Muslims, Jews and Christians – reversed decades of U.S. policy on the city. Its status is one of the biggest obstacles to reaching a peace agreement.

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. Israel says the entire city is its indivisible, and eternal capital.

(Reporting by Ali Sawafta and Maayan Lubell; editing by David Stamp)

Senior Yemen Qaeda leader calls for knife and car attacks on Jews

Defying warnings of new conflict, Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital

DUBAI (Reuters) – A senior leader of al Qaeda’s Yemen branch has called for knife and car attacks on Jews in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the U.S. SITE monitoring group said on Tuesday.

Citing a video recording by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s al-Malahem media foundation, SITE said that Khaled Batarfi, believed to be the number two man in AQAP after Qassim al-Raymi, also warned that no Muslim had the right to cede any part of Jerusalem.

“The Muslims inside the occupied land must kill every Jew, by running him over, or stabbing him, or by using against him any weapon, or by burning their homes,” Batarfi said in the 18-minute-long recording entitled “Our duty towards our Jerusalem”, according to SITE.

“Every Muslim must know that the Americans and the disbeliever West, and on top of them Britain and France, are the original reason behind the existence of the Jews in Palestine.”

Trump enraged Muslims last month when he announced that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and said he intends to transfer the U.S. embassy there.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, on a regional visit, said on Monday that the U.S. Embassy will be moved to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv before the end of 2019.

Batarfi was one of some 150 jailed AQAP members who were freed when the militant group, regarded by the United States as one of the deadliest branches of the network founded by Osama bin Laden, captured the Yemeni port city of Mukalla in 2015, where he was held.

Yemeni forces, baked by a Saudi-led coalition have since recaptured Mukalla and driven AQAP out, but Batarfi, who has since assumed a senior position in the group, remains at large.

AQAP has plotted to down U.S. airliners and claimed responsibility for 2015 attacks on the office of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris. AQAP also has boasted of the world’s most feared bomb makers, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, and the Pentagon estimates it has between about 2,000 and 3,000 fighters.

Batarfi said Muslims in Western countries, including the United States, were obliged to target the interests of Jews and the Americans.

“They must be eager to prepare themselves as much as possible, and to carry out jihadi operations against them,” he added, according to SITE.

Palestinians seek East Jerusalem, including the walled Old City with its holy sites, as the capital of their own future state. Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem after capturing it in 1967 in a move not internationally recognized, regards all of the city as its “eternal and indivisible capital”.

(Reporting by Sami Aboudi)

U.S. plan to move Israel embassy sign of ‘failure’, Iran’s leader says

BEIRUT (Reuters) – U.S. plans to move its Israel embassy to Jerusalem are a sign of incompetence and failure, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday.

U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to announce that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will move its embassy there, breaking with longtime U.S. policy and potentially stirring unrest.

“That they claim they want to announce Quds as the capital of occupied Palestine is because of their incompetence and failure,” Khamenei said, using the Arabic name for Jerusalem, according to his official website.

He made the remarks to a group of top Iranian officials, regional officials and religious figures attending a conference in Tehran.

Iran has long supported a number of Palestinian militant groups opposed to Israel.

“The issue of Palestine today is at the top of the political issues for Muslims and everyone is obligated to work and struggle for the freedom and salvation of the people of Palestine,” Khamenei said.

At the same gathering, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said, “Quds belongs to Islam, Muslims and the Palestinians, and there is no place for new adventurism by global oppressors,” according to Mizan, the news site for the Iranian judiciary.

Iran wants “peace and stability” in the region but will not tolerate the violation of Islamic holy sites, Rouhani said.

“No Muslim population, including Iran, will tolerate the violation of oppressors and Zionists against Islamic holy sites,” Rouhani said, according to Mizan.

The United States has not been able to reach its goals and seeks to destabilize the region, Khamenei said.

“On the issue of Palestine, (U.S.) hands are tied and they cannot advance their goals,” Khamenei said, saying the Palestinian people would be victorious.

“American government officials have said themselves that we have to start a war in the region to protect the security of the Zionist regime (Israel),” Khamenei said.

Certain rulers in the region are “dancing to America’s tune” Khamenei said, an indirect reference to Iran’s main regional rival Saudi Arabia.

“Whatever America wants, they’ll work against Islam to accomplish it,” he said.

(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh, editing by Larry King)

Defying warnings of new conflict, Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

Defying warnings of new conflict, Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital

By Steve Holland and Miriam Berger

WASHINGTON/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – President Donald Trump will announce on Wednesday that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will move its embassy there, breaking with longtime U.S. policy and potentially threatening regional stability.

Despite warnings from Western and Arab allies, Trump in a 1 p.m. (1800 GMT) White House speech will direct the State Department to begin looking for a site for an embassy in Jerusalem as part of what is expected to be a years-long process of relocating diplomatic operations from Tel Aviv.

Jerusalem’s status has been a stumbling block in decades of on-off Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. Israel considers the city its eternal and indivisible capital and wants all embassies based there. Palestinians want the capital of an independent Palestinian state in the east of the city.

One Palestinian envoy said the decision was a declaration of war in the Middle East. Pope Francis called for Jerusalem’s “status quo” to be respected, saying new tension would further inflame world conflicts, while China and Russia expressed concern the plans could aggravate regional hostilities.

Washington’s Middle East allies have all warned against the dangerous repercussions of Trump’s decision.

Turkey said it could go as far as breaking off diplomatic ties with Israel if the U.S. move goes ahead. A government spokesman said it would plunge the region into “a fire with no end in sight”.

Trump will sign a national security waiver delaying a physical move since the United States does not have an embassy structure in Jerusalem to move into. A senior administration official said it could take three to four years to build one.

But Trump’s decision, a core promise of his election campaign last year, will upend decades of American policy that has seen the status of Jerusalem as part of a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Facebook: “Each day there are very significant manifestations of our historic national identity – but today especially so. And I will have more to add on this later today, on a matter related to Jerusalem.”

The Palestinians have said Trump’s move would mean the “kiss of death” to the two-state solution.

“He is declaring war in the Middle East, he is declaring war against 1.5 billion Muslims (and) hundreds of millions of Christians that are not going to accept the holy shrines to be totally under the hegemony of Israel,” Manuel Hassassian, the chief Palestinian representative to Britain, told BBC radio.

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

Palestinians seethed with anger and a sense of betrayal.

“Trump wants to help Israel take over the entire city. Some people may do nothing, but others are ready to fight for Jerusalem,” said Hamad Abu Sbeih, 28, an unemployed resident of the walled Old City. “This decision will ignite a fire in the region. Pressure leads to explosions.”

Senior Trump administration officials said Trump’s decision was not intended to tip the scale in Israel’s favor and agreeing on the final status of Jerusalem would remain a central part of any peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

The officials said Trump was basically reflecting a fundamental truth: that Jerusalem is the seat of the Israeli government and should be recognized as such.

“The president believes this is a recognition of reality,” said one official, who briefed reporters on Tuesday about the announcement. “We’re going forward on the basis of a truth that is undeniable. It’s just a fact.”

“NEW ADVENTURISM”

Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it. The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the entire city, home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions.

No other country has its embassy in Jerusalem.

The political benefits for Trump of the move are unclear. The decision will thrill Republican conservatives and evangelical Christians who make up a large share of his political base. But it will complicate Trump’s desire for a more stable Middle East and Israel-Palestinian peace. Past presidents have put off such a move.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the plans were a sign of U.S. “incompetence and failure”, while Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said there was “no place for new adventurism by global oppressors”.

Iran has long supported a number of Palestinian militant groups opposed to Israel.

Islamist militant groups such as al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah have in the past tried to exploit Muslim sensitivities over Jerusalem to stoke anti-Israel and anti-U.S. sentiment.

“Our Palestinian people everywhere will not allow this conspiracy to pass, and their options are open in defending their land and their sacred places,” said Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said she intended to speak to Trump about the status of Jerusalem which should be determined as part of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. Germany and France warned its citizens in Israel and the Palestinian Territories of the risk of unrest.

‘SERIOUS IMPLICATIONS’

The decision comes as Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, leads a relatively quiet effort to restart long-stalled peace efforts in the region, with little in the way of tangible progress thus far.

“The president will reiterate how committed he is to peace. While we understand how some parties might react, we are still working on our plan which is not yet ready. We have time to get it right and see how people feel after this news is processed over the next period of time,” one senior official said.

As well as Netanyahu, Trump spoke to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Saudi King Salman to inform them of his decision.

The Jordanian king “affirmed that the decision will have serious implications that will undermine efforts to resume the peace process and will provoke Muslims and Christians alike,” said a statement from his office.

Abbas warned Trump of the “dangerous consequences” that moving the embassy would have for peace efforts and regional stability, Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah said.

But Trump assured Abbas that he remained committed to facilitating an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, one U.S. official said.

United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters it regarded Jerusalem as a “final-status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations between the two parties based on relevant Security Council resolutions.”

Trump has weighted U.S. policy toward Israel since taking office in January, considering the Jewish state a strong ally in a volatile part of the world.

But deliberations over the status of Jerusalem were tense. Vice President Mike Pence and David Friedman, U.S. Ambassador to Israel, pushed hard for both recognition and embassy relocation, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis opposed the move from Tel Aviv, according to other U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

An impatient Trump finally weighed in, telling aides last week he wanted to keep his campaign promise.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Matt Spetalnick and John Walcott in Washington and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Michael Nienaber in Berlin, Costas Pitas in London, Philip Pullella in Vatican City, Babak Dehghanpisheh in Beirut, Dmitry Solovyov in Moscow; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Palestinians seethe at Trump’s ‘insane’ Jerusalem move

Palestinians seethe at Trump's 'insane' Jerusalem move

By Ali Sawafta

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Palestinians seethed with anger and a sense of betrayal over U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize the disputed city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Many heard the death knell for the long-moribund U.S.-sponsored talks aimed at ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel. They also said more violence could erupt.

“Trump wants to help Israel take over the entire city. Some people may do nothing, but others are ready to fight for Jerusalem,” said Hamad Abu Sbeih, 28, an unemployed resident of the walled Old City.

“This decision will ignite a fire in the region. Pressure leads to explosions,” he said.

Jerusalem — specifically its eastern Old City, home to important shrines of Judaism, Christianity and Islam — is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli captured Arab East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East War then later annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. Palestinians want it to be the capital of a future independent state and resolution of its status is fundamental to any peace-making.

Trump is due to announce later on Wednesday that the United States recognizes the city as Israel’s capital and will move its embassy there from Tel Aviv, breaking with longtime policy..

“This is insane. You are speaking about something fateful. Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Palestine and neither the world nor our people will accept it,” said Samir Al-Asmar, 58, a merchant from the Old City who was a child when it fell to Israel.

“It will not change what Jerusalem is. Jerusalem will remain Arab. Such a decision will sabotage things and people will not accept it.”

Palestinian newspapers also decried the move.

“Trump Defies the World,” thundered Al-Ayyam. Another, Al-Hayat, roared “Jerusalem is the Symbol of Palestinian Endurance” in a red-letter headline over an image of the city’s mosque compound flanked by Palestinian flags.

Palestinian leaders have also warned the move could have dangerous consequences. Although winter rains dampened protests called for East Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip, few doubted fresh bloodshed now loomed.

Israeli security forces braced for possible unrest but police said the situation in Jerusalem was calm for now.

That could quickly change, given the religious passions that swirl around the Old City, where Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest shrine, abuts the Western Wall prayer plaza, a vestige of two ancient Jewish temples.

Palestinians mounted two uprisings, or intifadas, against Israeli occupation from 1987 to 1993 then from 2000 to 2005, the latter ignited by a visit by then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the shrine area, known to Jews as Temple Mount.

Violent confrontations also took place in July when Israel installed metal detectors at an entrance to Al-Aqsa compound after Arab gunmen holed up there killed two of its policemen. Four Palestinians and three Israelis died in ensuing violence.

ANGRY IN GAZA

In the Palestinian coastal enclave of Gaza, demonstrators chanted “Death to America”, “Death to Israel” and “Down with Trump”. They also burned posters depicting the U.S., British and Israeli flags.

Youssef Mohammad, a 70-year-old resident of a refugee camp, said Trump’s move would be a test for Arab leadership at a time of regional chaos and shifting alliances.

“Let him do it. Let’s see what Arab rulers and kings will do. They will do nothing because they are cowards,” the father of eight said.

The Jerusalem uproar could affect Egyptian-brokered efforts to bring Gaza, which has been under Islamist Hamas control for a decade, back under the authority of U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who favors negotiation with Israel.

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said Trump’s planned moved showed the United States was biased.

“The United States was never a neutral mediator in any cause of our people. It has always stood with the occupation (Israel),” he said.

He said Abbas’ administration should “rid itself of the illusion that rights can be achieved through an American-backed deal”.

(Corrects Ariel Sharon’s title to opposition leader)

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Editing by Ori Lewis and Angus MacSwan)

Trump likely to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital next week: official

Trump likely to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital next week: official

By Steve Holland and Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is likely to announce next week that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a senior administration official said on Friday, a move that would upend decades of American policy and possibly inflame tensions in the Middle East.

Trump could make the controversial declaration in a speech on Wednesday though he is also expected to again delay his campaign promise to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. The senior official and two other government sources said final decisions had not yet been made.

The Palestinians want Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, and the international community does not recognize Israel’s claim on all of the city, home to sites holy to the Jewish, Muslim and Christian religions.

Word of Trump’s planned announcement, which would deviate from previous U.S. presidents who have insisted the Jerusalem’s status must be decided in negotiations, drew criticism from the Palestinian Authority and was sure to anger the broader Arab world.

It could also unravel the U.S. administration’s fledgling diplomatic effort, led by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, to restart long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and enlist the support of U.S. Arab allies.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would “destroy the peace process” and “destabilize the region.”

Such a move, however, could help satisfy the pro-Israel, right-wing base that helped Trump win the presidency and also please the Israeli government, a close U.S. ally.

The senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said details were still being finalized and could still change.

Another U.S. official said Trump appeared to be heading toward recognizing Israel’s claim to Jerusalem but that it was not a done deal.

“We’ve nothing to announce,” said a spokesperson with the White House National Security Council.

INTERNAL DELIBERATIONS

Trump’s impending decisions on Jerusalem, one of the most sensitive core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, follow intense internal deliberations in which the president has personally weighed in, one White House aide said.

Trump is likely to continue his predecessors’ practice of signing a six-month waiver overriding a 1995 law requiring that the U.S. embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, two officials told Reuters on Thursday.

But seeking to temper his supporters’ concerns, another option under consideration is for Trump to order his aides to develop a longer-term plan for the embassy’s relocation to make clear his intent to do so eventually, the officials said.

It was unclear, however, whether any public recognition by Trump of Israel’s claim on Jerusalem would be formally enshrined in a presidential action or be more of a symbolic statement.

Trump pledged on the presidential campaign trail last year that he would move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

But in June, Trump waived the requirement, saying he wanted to “maximize the chances” for a new U.S.-led push for what he has called the “ultimate deal” of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Those efforts have made little, if any, progress so far and many experts are skeptical of the prospects for success.

The status of Jerusalem is one of the major stumbling blocks in achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem during the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it, a move not recognized internationally.

Arab governments and Western allies have long urged Trump not to proceed with the embassy relocation, which would reverse long-standing U.S. policy by granting de facto U.S. recognition of Israel’s claim to all of Jerusalem as its capital.

Visiting Washington this week, Jordan’s King Abdullah warned lawmakers that moving the U.S. embassy could be “exploited by terrorists to stoke anger, frustration and desperation,” according to the Jordanian state news agency Petra.

Some of Trump’s top aides have privately pushed for him to keep his campaign promise to satisfy a range of supporters, including evangelical Christians, while others have cautioned about the potential damage to U.S. relations with Muslim countries.

(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington, Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Richard Chang)