Jordan's king thanks Trump for US role in tempering Temple Mount crisis
US president, who has not spoken with Netanyahu or Abbas, discusses ongoing situation with Jordanian leader in phone call
Eric Cortellessa, Times of Israel
Friday July 28, 2017, 11:09 pm Jerusalem time
WASHINGTON: — US President Donald Trump and King Abdullah II of Jordan spoke by phone Friday about the crisis in recent weeks surrounding the Temple Mount, the Royal Hashemite Court announced. A statement in Jordanian state media said the king thanked Trump for his administration's role in helping to defuse tensions and stressed the importance of deepening US-Jordan ties "to avoid the recurrence of such crises." The call marks the first time Trump has personally injected himself into the crisis that has spurred violent protests, deep tension between Israel and the Palestinians, and a diplomatic imbroglio between Israel and Jordan.
"Both leaders said they were encouraged by the efforts taken to de-escalate tensions and by the progress that has been made," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. "They pledged to continue to stay in close communication. President Trump also emphasized Jordan's important role in regional security."
Jordan, the custodian of the Temple Mount, and the Palestinians pressured Israel to remove security measures at entrances to the sensitive holy compound, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock sanctuary. These were set up after a July 14 terror attack in which three Arab Israelis shot dead two Israeli police officers with weapons they had smuggled onto the site. The introduction of the new Israeli security measures, including metal detectors and cameras, set off near-daily clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces in and around the Old City, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It also triggered a boycott by Muslim worshipers who threatened not to return to the site until all the installations were removed.
Israel removed the new measures early Thursday, and Muslim worshipers returned to pray at the compound later that day. Friday prayers at the site ended peacefully. Last week, five Palestinians died in weekend clashes and a Palestinian terrorist killed three members of a family sitting down to Shabbat dinner in the West Bank settlement of Halamish.
A diplomatic dispute also erupted between Israel and Jordan this week after the killing of two Jordanians by an Israeli security guard near the Israeli embassy in Amman, including a teenager who had stabbed the security officer in what the Foreign Ministry said was a nationalistically motivated attack. Jordan had demanded the guard be questioned by its security forces, but Israel refused to hand him over, citing his diplomatic immunity. Only after US intervention did Amman relent, allowing the guard and the rest of the embassy staff to leave Jordan. Following their return on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the Jordanian monarch and the US president for their efforts in securing the staff's safe passage back into Israel.
Jordan, however, was angered by Netanyahu's warm welcome of the guard, who has been named only as Ziv, with the king calling for him to be tried. Abdullah accused Netanyahu of "political showmanship" and of using "this crime to score personal political points," after the Israeli leader posted photos of himself embracing the guard. The monarch said this episode would have a negative impact on bilateral ties between Amman and Jerusalem.
On Thursday, Jordan charged the guard with murder in absentia. It went on to say the Israel embassy staff would not be allowed to return until a proper investigation was conducted. On Friday, Jordan gave Israel the results of its investigation into the shooting, and called for the guard to be prosecuted under international law. Later on Friday, Israel announced it was opening a probe into the incident.
While Trump sent one of his top envoys, Jason Greenblatt, to the region earlier this week to try to reduce tensions, he himself has not yet spoken to either Netanyahu or Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Greenblatt, for his part, met with Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman in Jerusalem on Monday before heading to Amman for more meetings on Tuesday.
A senior administration official told The Times of Israel that "President Trump and his administration are closely following unfolding events in the region," and praised Netanyahu for his handling of the situation and said the White House team had been working with him. "In our continuous contacts with him throughout the crisis, Prime Minister Netanyahu acted with a clear sense of responsibility not just for Israel's security, but also for regional stability," the official said.
In another statement Thursday, Greenblatt said the US welcomed the efforts to restore calm, saying he hoped it would help renew an opening for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks — which Trump has made a major priority as president, saying he intends to achieve the "ultimate deal." "The United States welcomes the efforts undertaken to de-escalate tensions in Jerusalem today," he said. "We believe that calm and security will create the best opportunity to return to dialogue and the pursuit of peace."
The fate of the Temple Mount is an emotional issue at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even the smallest perceived change to delicate arrangements pertaining to the site sparks tensions. Jews revere the hilltop compound as the Temple Mount, site of the two Jewish biblical temples. It is the holiest site in Judaism, and the nearby Western Wall, a remnant of one of the temples, is the holiest place where Jews can pray. But the walled compound is also home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, which is Islam's third-holiest site after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Muslims believe the site marks the spot where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
New York: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday heralded an agreement brokered by Egypt that will see militant group Hamas cede control of the Gaza Strip to his government, a significant development for the Palestinian national movement but one that faces obstacles to implementation.
Hamas took control of the impoverished Gaza Strip after parliamentary elections in 2006 and an armed conflict in 2007, leading to a stalemate within the Palestinian movement. There have been no presidential or parliamentary elections since then, with the militant group presiding over Gaza and the Palestinian Authority, led by Mr Abbas's Fatah party, ruling in the West Bank. The two sides in recent days announced an agreement aimed at reconciliation, the culmination of efforts by Mr Abbas to pressure Hamas into ceding control of the territory, in part by curtailing budgetary funds. The two sides in recent weeks held negotiations in Cairo on the terms of a deal.
Mr Abbas, addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York as the head of a nonmember observer state, said the Hamas-controlled government in the Gaza Strip had been "canceled" and described the idea of a state there as a "false dream." He cheered the commitment to national Palestinian unity. "This agreement has been reached, and we are satisfied with this agreement," Mr Abbas said. "Next week our government is going to the Gaza Strip to assume its responsibilities. We wish the government all success." Mr Abbas said the agreement would enable the Palestinian Authority to exercise its control in the Gaza Strip and allow for general elections to be held.
A major obstacle to reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority will be whether the militant group allows Mr Abbas's police into Gaza to manage security.
Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump's special representative for international negotiations, praised the transfer of authority in the Gaza Strip in a speech earlier in the week in New York. He said Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by both the US and Israel, had exploited the people of Gaza as hostages and shields for too long. "It's time for the Palestinian Authority to take control of Gaza — and for the international community to take steps to help this happen," Mr Greenblatt said earlier this week. "Relief from the suffering in Gaza can only be found when all interested parties gather together to help the Palestinian people and isolate Hamas."
Mr Abbas spent the bulk of his address at the United Nations on Wednesday assailing Israel, in contrast to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who devoted very little of his speech the previous day to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and instead focused on threats from by Iran. In his address, Mr Abbas asked the nations gathered to uphold a vision for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which he said was under threat.
Mr Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, is leading an effort aimed at reviving peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians alongside Mr Greenblatt. Mr Trump met with Mr Abbas on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York this week and said there was a "good chance" of achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace. "While a great deal more work remains to be done, discussions remain serious and constructive," Mr Greenblatt said of the effort during his speech.
Still, the White House hasn't committed publicly to the establishment of a Palestinian state, saying such a move would bias negotiations — a position that has frustrated Palestinian officials, as it reverses a decades long US policy. Mr Trump declined to endorse a two-state solution during a press conference with Mr Netanyahu in February, saying he was happy to agree to whatever solution both sides endorsed.
Mr Netanyahu previously expressed support for a two-state solution but has since backed away from that position.
During his UN address, the leader of the Palestinian Authority called on those gathered to uphold the international community's commitment to the two-state solution. "We have heard that they are seeking a historical deal. We would like to thank them. We hope that this will take place," Mr Abbas said. "So we stress the two state solution, enabling the state of Palestine to live side by side with the state of Israel in security and peace."
He also indirectly criticized US ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who in an interview published earlier this month in the Jerusalem Post newspaper referred to Israel's "alleged occupation" of the Palestinian territories. It is "very strange to hear some of those who hold the responsibility to end this occupation referring to it as an 'alleged occupation'," Mr Abbas said at the UN. "Such perceptions are totally disconnected from reality." The US administration hasn't described Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza as an occupation and hasn't labeled settlements illegal, though it has described them as an impediment to peace.
Washington: The White House is drawing up a plan for "an enduring peace" between Israel and the Palestinians as a shift in Arab-Israeli relations, led by Saudi Arabia, stirs tentative hopes that decades of deadlock could be overcome. Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's son-in-law, is drafting a potential blueprint with Jason Greenblatt, the President's chief negotiator, and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell.
A White House official said: "The team is formulating ideas as it continues to work towards facilitating an enduring peace agreement." Mr Trump has called solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "the ultimate deal" and in the past 10 months Mr Kushner has held meetings across the region. Plenty of scepticism remains, but analysts believe Mr Trump may have found a propitious moment as a new alignment of Israeli and Arab interests reshapes the Middle East.
Gilead Sher, chief negotiator for the Israelis at the Camp David summit in 2000, said Saudi Arabia and Israel were concerned about the regional ambitions of Iran and the existential threat posed by jihadist extremism. "We should capitalise on the fact that there are more common concerns for the Arab Quartet (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates) and Israel than differences between them in relation to Islamist radicalism and Iran," he said.
Nimrod Novik, a fellow at the Israel Policy Forum think tank who was chief foreign policy adviser to Shimon Peres, Israel's leader from 1984-86 and 1995-96, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been taken aback by Saudi Arabia's stance. "Netanyahu was stunned when he found out the extent to which the Arab Quartet, but particularly the Saudis and UAE, are willing to go in supporting the process, including steps that help demonstrate to Israelis that promise of regional acceptance is not a mirage," he said.
The political vulnerability of Mr Netanyahu, whose power rests on a right-wing coalition, is an obstacle. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas also faces opposition, but the US and its allies have shown new determination to sideline Hamas, the governing authority in Gaza. The White House has enlisted Saudi Arabia and Egypt in efforts to make the Palestinian Authority the sole representative of the Palestinian people. Last month Mr Kushner spent four days in Saudi Arabia with Mr Greenblatt. Days later Mr Abbas visited Saudi Arabia, where he was told progress on a deal was imperative.
Mr Trump has met Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas three times each. Those involved in past peace attempts have said the most urgent task is creating a process for talks to keep a two-state solution viable. Mr Netanyahu said in London this month that the Trump administration was "trying to think out of the box". Mr Greenblatt said this week that the US President wanted to "facilitate, not dictate, a lasting peace agreement". "We are not going to put an artificial timeline on the development or presentation of any specific ideas, and will also never impose a deal," he said.
Washington: The administration announced late Friday (US time) that the Palestinians had run afoul of a legal provision that says the Palestine Liberation Organisation cannot operate a Washington office if the Palestinians try to get the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israelis for crimes against Palestinians. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson determined that the Palestinians crossed that line in September when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on the court to investigate and prosecute Israelis, according to State Department officials.
The Palestinians have threatened to suspend all communication with the US if the Trump administration closes that diplomatic office in Washington. The potential rupture in ties threatens to undermine President Donald Trump's bid for Middle East peace — a job he has handed to son-in-law Jared Kushner.
The PLO formally represents all Palestinians. The US allowed the PLO to open a mission in Washington in 1994. That required president Bill Clinton to waive a law against a Palestinian office. Although the US does not recognise Palestinian statehood, the PLO maintains a "general delegation" office in Washington that facilitates Palestinian officials' interactions with the US government. In 2011, under the Obama administration, the US let the Palestinians fly their flag over the office.
The Israelis and Palestinians are not engaged in active, direct negotiations. Israel opposes any Palestinian membership in UN-related organisations until a peace deal has been reached. The Palestinians, publicly supportive of the US effort, are sceptical because Mr Trump's close ties to Israel suggest any deal might be unfavourable to them.
Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said yesterday the US decision was "very unfortunate and unacceptable", and accused Washington of bowing to "the pressure being exerted on this administration by the Netanyahu government when we are trying to co-operate to achieve the ultimate deal". In a video statement, Mr Erekat said: "We will put on hold all our communications with this American administration." Mr Netanyahu's office said the closure was "a matter of US law". US officials had insisted before Mr Erekat's statement that the move was not aimed at increasing leverage over the Palestinians, but merely the unavoidable consequence of US law.
PLO official Hanan Ashrawi said the US was "disqualifying itself as a peace broker in the region" by refusing to extend a waiver of the law. "Conditioning the renewal of the waiver on the Palestinians' sticking to 'direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel' is actually superfluous since negotiations are non-existent, and the current US administration has yet to present any kind of peace initiative", she said.
The US denied it was cutting ties with the Palestinians and remained focused on a comprehensive peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians. One of the US officials said "this measure should in no way be seen as a signal that the US is backing off those efforts". The Palestinians quickly dismissed that argument, with Foreign Minister Riad Malki telling Palestine Radio the Palestinian leadership "will not accept any extortion or pressure".
In response, the Israeli Prime Minister's office said: "We respect the decision and look forward to continuing to work with the US to advance peace and security in the region."
It was unclear when the office would close or whether the Palestinians would have to clear out of the building entirely or just close it to the public. Under the law, Mr Trump now has 90 days to consider whether the Palestinians are in "direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel". If Mr Trump determines they are, the mission can reopen, officials said.
Trump delays Jerusalem embassy decision
Tuesday 10:34am December 5, 2017 - 7:34pm on Monday in Washington DC
President Donald Trump will miss the deadline on a decision about moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a White House spokesman says. An announcement on the decision will be made "in coming days," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told reporters aboard Air Force One as Trump was returning from a trip to Utah.
Trump had been due to decide on Monday whether to sign a waiver that would hold off relocating the embassy from Tel Aviv for another six months, as every US president has done since Congress passed a law on the issue in 1995. Senior US officials have said that Trump is expected to issue a temporary order, the second since he took office, to delay moving the embassy despite his campaign pledge to go ahead with the controversial action.
But the officials have said Trump is likely to give a speech on Wednesday unilaterally recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital, a step that would break with decades of US policy and could fuel violence in the Middle East. They have said, however, that no final decisions have been made.
Earlier, French President Emmanuel Macron warned Trump in a phone call against recognising Jerusalem and the Palestine Liberation Organisation's chief representative in Washington said it would be the "kiss of death" for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict.
I expect this'll be in the news a bit, though I had to smile at the second comment below
PS We'll be having our last get together for the year for prayer Wednesday mornings next Wednesday at 6.30, and heading to the Coffee Club in Mt Gravatt at 7.00, great to see anyone who can be there.
We'll be restarting the prayer on Wednesday January 10th.
Shortly after 1pm on Wednesday (4am Thursday morning in Brisbane), Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital, describing the move as an obvious and overdue recognition of reality. But he said the decision, which has sparked anger across the Middle East and amongst Palestinians, would not diminish America's push for a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. "I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," Mr Trump declared today. "This is a long overdue step to advance the peace process and to work towards a lasting agreement."
Mr Trump said the move was "nothing more or less than the recognition of reality," noting that the country's prime minister, parliament and highest courts were all based in Jerusalem. But he said America's recognition of Jerusalem and its plan to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv was an isolated issue. He said the decision makes no assumption about the ultimate status and the final boundaries of Jerusalem in any peace agreement concluded between Israel and the Palestinians.
Mr Trump acknowledged that the decision would be unpopular with some, but said the US would continue to push for a possible peace agreement in the region and maintained that his decision would not compromise the city's geographic and political borders, which will still be determined by Israel and the Palestinians. "The United States remains deeply committed to helping facilitate a peace agreement that is acceptable to both sides. I intend to do everything in my power to forge such an agreement."
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the announcement as "historic," but pledged no change to status quo at Jerusalem holy sites. "Israel will always ensure freedom of worship for Jews Christians and Muslims alike," he said. Hamas condemned the move, declaring that Mr Trump had opened "the gates of hell," and Turkey described the move as "irresponsible" and illegal.
Ahead of Mr Trump's speech, Arab and Muslim leaders had spoken about the potential for violence. In Gaza, hundreds of Palestinian protesters burned American and Israeli flags. They also waved Palestinian flags and banners proclaiming Jerusalem as their "eternal capital," language that Israelis similarly use for their nation. Even America's closest allies in Europe questioned the wisdom of Trump's radical departure from the past US position, which was studiously neutral over the sovereignty of the city. Jerusalem includes the holiest ground in Judaism. It's also home to Islam's third-holiest shrine and major Christian sites, and any perceived harm to Muslim claims to the city has triggered protests in the past, in the Holy Land and beyond.
America's consulate in Jerusalem has ordered US personnel and their families to avoid visiting Jerusalem's Old City or the West Bank, and urged American citizens in general to avoid places with increased police or military presence.
Lynn 32 MINUTES AGO
It's time for everyone to stop the stupidly and see what can be achieved rather than keep the status quo which has seen nothing happen for decades. Well done Donald, wish we had someone as decisive
Glynn 35 MINUTES AGO
I'm thinking teacup
Peter 37 MINUTES AGO Christmas sure means love and doing right by all mankind.
US cast its first United Nations Security Council veto in six years
The US on Monday vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that called on the Trump administration to rescind its decision to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel and to begin to move the US embassy to the holy city.
The draft resolution, introduced by Egypt and backed by the rest of the Security Council, didn't single out the US by name, but declared "recent decisions" that purport to alter Jerusalem's status to be null and void.
The vote Monday marked the first time the US exercised its veto power in the Security Council in more than six years, and illustrated international frustration with the Trump administration's announcement on Jerusalem last week.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley said the US veto was meant to defend American sovereignty and its role in the Middle East peace process. She said the US wasn't embarrassed by its use of the veto, and pointed to President Donald Trump's speech on Jerusalem last week in which he said the final boundaries of Jerusalem would be decided in negotiations. "The United States has never been more committed to peace in the Middle East," Ms. Haley said.
Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to travel to the Middle East on Tuesday, but his office said Monday that his trip is being postponed until January. Palestinian officials had scrapped plans to meet with him.
Matthew Rycroft, the UK's ambassador to the UN who joined in the vote against the US, told reporters that the resolution matched Britain's position on Jerusalem and urged all parties to return to peace efforts. "Our view is that the issue of Jerusalem is a final status issue, that Jerusalem should be a shared capital for Israelis and for Palestinians, and the UK Embassy, for now, will remain in Tel Aviv," he said.
Ms Haley disputed claims by other Security Council members that the Trump administration's decision on Jerusalem would hurt prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. "A peace process that is damaged by the simple recognition that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel is not a peace process, it is a justification for an endless stalemate," she said.
The resolution vetoed by the US also would have called on all countries to refrain from establishing diplomatic missions in Jerusalem.
On Twitter, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the US for vetoing the resolution. "You lit a candle of truth," he said. "Thank you, President Trump. Thank you, Nikki Haley."
Under the Obama administration, the US last December abstained from voting on a resolution that harshly criticized Israel's expansion of Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories. The US refusal to veto that measure cleared the way for the first Security Council resolution in 36 years addressing the issue of Israeli settlement construction. (and condemning it - Steve)
Donald Trump's UN ambassador warns allies over Jerusalem policy
Cameron Stewart, Washington correspondent
Friday 8:59am December 22, 2017 - 5:59pm on Thursday in New York
In a dramatic showdown in the United Nations, America's UN ambassador Nikki Haley warned the US will remember and potentially punish countries that voted for a resolution condemning the US over its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. A furious Ms Haley lashed out after the UN voted 128 to 9 to condemn Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem. Australia was one of 35 countries that abstained from the vote but major US allies including Britain, France, Germany and Japan voted for it.
"The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out in this assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation," Ms Haley told the General Assembly. "We will remember it when, once again, we are called up to make the world's largest contribution to the UN, and we will remember it when many countries come calling on us to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit."
Ms Haley said that no UN Resolution would make Washington change its mind about recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moving the US embassy there from Tel Aviv. "That is what the American people want us to do and it is the right thing to do," she said. "This vote will make a difference in how Americans look at the UN. And this vote will be remembered."
Ms Haley's threat to reassess US funding to the UN echoes similar threats by Mr Trump. The US is easily the largest financial contributor to the UN, paying 22 per cent of its budget, with the next largest Japan at 9.68 per cent and China at 7.92 per cent. Earlier this week, after the US vetoed a similar resolution in the Security Council, Mr Trump also linked US foreign aid to the Jerusalem vote in the UN. "They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us," Mr Trump said. "Well, we'll be watching those votes. Let them vote against us, we'll save a lot. We don't care. But this isn't like it used to be, where they could vote against you, and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars and nobody knows what they're doing. We're not going to be taken advantage of any longer."
In Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, yesterday hit back at the president. "Mr Trump, you cannot buy Turkey's democratic free will with your dollars, our decision is clear," he said. "What is the cradle of democracy doing. They are looking for people they can buy with their dollars."
The UN resolution was non-binding so its impact is merely symbolic.
In the General Assembly nation after nation stood up to criticise the US move as either illegal or destabilising and damaging to the peace process. The UN Palestinian representative Ambassador Riyad Mansour asked "What does this decision serve? It serves the Israeli government in implementing its colonial plans. It serves the powers of extremism … Does the United States not wonder why it stands isolated?"
But after the vote Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the US for "standing up for Israel and for standing up for the truth. Ultimately the truth will prevail."
The countries that voted against the UN Resolution were the US, Israel, Guatemala, Honduras, and a number of Pacific Island nations — Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Togo.
The 35 countries that abstained from voting on the resolution were Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Benin, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cameroon, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Fiji, Haiti, Hungary, Jamaica, Kiribati, Latvia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Rwanda, Solomon Islands, South Sudan, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, and Vanuatu.
Guatemala Says It Is Moving Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem
The Wall Street Journal
Monday December 25, 2017
GUATEMALA CITY: Guatemala's president said on Christmas Eve that the Central American country will move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, becoming the first nation to follow the lead of US President Donald Trump in ordering the change. Guatemala was one of nine nations that voted with the US and Israel on Thursday when the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a nonbinding resolution denouncing Mr Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Mr Trump didn't set any timetable for moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and neither did Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales. In a post on his official Facebook account Sunday, Mr Morales said that after talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he decided to instruct Guatemala's Foreign Ministry to move the embassy. Guatemala and Israel have long had close ties, especially in security matters and Israeli arms sales to Guatemala.
No other country has their embassy for Israel in Jerusalem, though the Czech Republic has said it is considering such a move.
Extract - Trump Administration Accelerating Israeli Embassy Move
Felicia Schwartz and Jess Bravin, The Wall Street Journal
Friday January 19, 2018 (Thursday evening, US time)
WASHINGTON: The Trump administration is accelerating efforts to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and has decided to modify an existing property to accommodate the new mission that will open next year, US officials said. The US won't be building a new structure, in a shift from what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others from the Trump administration have said in describing the move recently.
"The secretary's primary focus is on security," said Steve Goldstein, undersecretary of state for diplomacy and public affairs. "We will not be moving to a new facility … we are going to retrofit a building," which will be ready in 2019. "There is no plan for anything temporary," Mr Goldstein said.
State Department officials at first said this would involve locating property and building a new facility, which could cost as much as $1 billion and take several years. Under that scenario, it might not have opened until a second Trump term or beyond.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters Wednesday that he expected the move to happen "within a year from today." After a meeting Thursday at the White House, Mr Tillerson and Mr Trump agreed on a plan to convert an existing structure to address safety concerns, with a goal of beginning operation as the embassy next year, a person familiar with the meeting said. In Jerusalem, State Department officials from Washington, as well as from the Tel Aviv embassy, have visited the West Jerusalem facility and are drawing up plans for its formal designation, even considering new signage, people familiar with the project said.
The embassy relocation comes amid increasingly heightened tensions between the Trump administration and the Palestinians after recent decisions by the US to declare Jerusalem Israel's capital, and to slash funding from the United Nations Palestinian refugee agency. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gave a fiery speech last Sunday criticizing the Trump administration for its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including taking a swipe at Mr Trump's threat to cut aid to the United Nations.
The Trump administration told the UN last week that it will withhold $65 million from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, known as UNRWA, until it makes unspecified changes in its operations and funding. Mr Trump had complained in a Jan 2 Twitter message that the US pays Palestinians hundreds of millions of dollars a year but receives "no appreciation or respect in return."
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has said the funds would be withheld until the Palestinians agree to return to peace negotiations, which are currently dormant, despite the president's decision to assign the task to Mr Kushner. Messrs Kushner and Greenblatt are drawing up a peace plan to be presented later this year.
Vice President Mike Pence will travel to the Middle East beginning this weekend and plans to visit Israel, but currently doesn't have plans to meet with Mr Abbas.
Extract - Pence Hears Criticism About Jerusalem Policy on Jordan Trip
Peter Nicholas, The Wall Street Journal
Sunday January 21, 2018
AMMAN, Jordan: Vice President Mike Pence received more blowback Sunday from President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with Jordan's king cautioning that such a move should be part of a "comprehensive" Middle East peace deal. At a luncheon, Jordan's King Abdullah II told Mr Pence that Jerusalem's status "is key to peace in the region" and is as important to "Muslims and Christians as it is to Jews."
He suggested that the decision could spark more unrest and possibly terrorist attacks, making it harder for Muslims "to fight some of our root causes of radicalization." He added that "today we have a major challenge to overcome especially with some of the rising frustration … " An independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital is central to a two-state solution that would also grant Israel international recognition and security, King Abdullah said at the lunch.
Though Mr Pence hasn't described his trip in these terms, the king said that "your visit here, I am sure, is to rebuild trust and confidence" in forging a peace agreement.
Mr Pence, in his reply, called Mr Trump's decision "historic" and repeated assertions that it has no bearing on a negotiated peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. He said that "we take no position on boundaries and final status — those are subject to negotiation." And he said the US supports a two-state solution so long as the parties involved agree.
Mr Pence is in Jordan as part of a four-day trip to the Middle East. He arrived Saturday in Egypt and in meetings with the country's president, Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, also heard criticism of Mr Trump's break with longstanding US policy when it comes to Jerusalem.
After his meetings with the king, Mr Pence flew to a military base near the Syrian border to greet troops. Later Sunday he is scheduled to fly to Israel for two days of talks and a speech to the Knesset.
Mr Pence, speaking to US troops at a military base in an undisclosed location near the Syrian border, took aim at Democrats over the government shutdown, saying they have "decided to play politics with military pay." Mr Pence, who is in the midst of a three-nation trip, told the assembled troops wearing camouflage uniforms: "You deserve better." "You and your families shouldn't have to worry for one minute about whether you'll get paid," he said. Pointing to the impasse in Washington over the fate of young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers, Mr Pence said: "We're going to demand that they reopen the government. In fact, we're not going to reopen negotiations on illegal immigration until they reopen the government … "
Postcript 6.25pm Monday (Washington time): Congress approved a measure to fund the government for about three weeks and halt a three-day shutdown, after Senate Democrats accepted GOP leaders' assurance that they would bring an immigration bill to the floor in the coming weeks.
Trump threatens to cut Palestinian funds over 'disrespect'
Saturday January 27, 2018
Donald Trump has challenged Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to start talking about peace or risk losing hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid. In a dramatic first day at the Davos summit in Switzerland, Mr Trump met Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu and questioned why the US should continue giving aid to the Palestinians if they were not willing to participate in peace talks.
His comments came after the Palestinians refused to meet Vice-President Mike Pence when he visited Israel last week in protest at the US decision to recognise the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. "When they disrespected us a week ago by not allowing our great Vice-President to see them and we give them hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and support, tremendous numbers, numbers that nobody understands," Mr Trump said. "That money is on the table. That money is not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace." The State Department announced earlier this month that it would withhold $US65 million ($80m) in funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency, the organisation charged with assisting Palestinian refugees.
Mr Trump further angered Mr Abbas by claiming to Mr Netanyahu that the issue of Jerusalem was "off the table" in negotiations with the Palestinians. "You could never get past Jerusalem — we got it off the table," Mr Trump said. The comment appeared to contradict the official US position that its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital made no assumptions about the final status of the city which is claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians.
Mr Abbas fired back at Mr Trump's comments, saying that if the status of Jerusalem was "off the table" then Palestinians would not accept a US role in the peace process. "If Jerusalem is off the table, then America is off the table as well," Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said. Palestinians have refused to participate in peace negotiations since December when the US recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital and confirmed that it would move the US embassy to the city from Tel Aviv. Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital, as does Israel.
Despite the growing rift in US Palestinian relations, Washington says it intends to draft a peace proposal later this year to try to achieve what Mr Trump calls the "ultimate" Middle East peace agreement.
Hours after Mr Trump's comments, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, launched a scathing attack on Mr Abbas in the UN saying he "lacked the courage and the will to seek peace". She said a speech given by Mr Abbas two weeks ago had insulted the President and shown that the Palestinian leader did not have what it took to make peace.
"In his speech, President Abbas declared the landmark Oslo peace accords dead," Ms Haley said. "He rejected any American role in peace talks. He insulted the American President. He called for suspending recognition of Israel. He invoked an ugly and fictional past, reaching back to the 17th century, to paint Israel as a colonialist project engineered by European powers. "A speech that indulges in outrageous and discredited conspiracy theories is not the speech of a person with the courage and the will to seek peace," she said.
In his meeting with Mr Trump in Davos, Mr Netanyahu praised the President for pursuing closer ties with Israel — ties that have drifted under Mr Trump's predecessor Barack Obama. "I've never seen the realistic alliance between the United States, Israel and your other allies in the region as strong, as unified as it is under your leadership," Mr Netanyahu said.
Arab-Israeli Conflict NETANYAHU: ISRAEL WILL HIT IRANIAN AND SYRIAN TARGETS AS NEEDED
Saturday February 10, 2018 22:40 PM (Sunday 6:40 AM Brisbane time)
Daniel Roth in New York, Michael Wilner in Washington and Reuters contributed to this report.
Israel will continue to defend itself resolutely against infringements on its sovereignty and Iran's efforts to entrench itself militarily in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday night after the most intensive IAF bombing of positions in Syria since the First Lebanon War in 1982. The prime minister's comments come after a dramatic day where Iran drone penetrated Israeli airspace, IAF raided enemy positions in Syria and an Israeli F-16I plane was downed.
At the end of a long day that began before dawn when Israel identified and quickly downed an Iranian drone that penetrated its airspace, and which included the apparent downing of an Israel Air Force F16I jet that crashed in Israel after its two crew members evacuated, Netanyahu said Israel will continue to hit Iranian and Syrian targets as is necessary.
The crew members landed in Israel, where one of them is in serious condition, and the other was only lightly wounded.
"Our policy is absolutely clear: Israel will defend itself against any attack and any attempt to harm our sovereignty," the prime minister said. "Iran made such an attempt today. It violated our sovereignty, it infiltrated Israeli territory with an [unmanned] aircraft from Syrian territory."
Netanyahu said that Israel not only immediately downed the drone and hit the command and control center from which it was launched, but also attacked "with strength" other Iranian and Syrian targets as well. "This is both our right and our duty and we will continue to do so as much as necessary," he said. "Let no one make a mistake about this."
The prime minister said that he spoke during the day with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country is a major stakeholder in Syria, and reiterated Israel's "right and obligation to defend ourselves against attacks on us from Syrian territory." Netanyahu flew to Moscow 10 days ago to convey the same message to Putin. He said on Saturday night that the security coordination between the Israeli and Russian militaries, which has been in place since the end of 2015 to prevent any accidental confrontation between their forces in Syria, would continue.
Netanyahu said that he also spoke during the day with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who left on Saturday for a Mideast tour that will take him to Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait and Turkey.
The prime minister said that he has been warning for months about the dangers of Iran's military entrenchment in Syria. "Iran seeks to use Syrian territory to attack Israel for its professed goal of destroying Israel," he said, calling the drone penetration a "brazen" violation of Israel's sovereignty. He said that this demonstrated that Israel's warnings about Tehran's military activity and designs in Syria "were 100% correct," adding that Jerusalem "holds Iran and its Syrian hosts responsible for today's aggression."
Russia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement urging "all parties involved to exercise restraint and to avoid any actions that could lead to an even greater complication of the situation." According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, "We consider it necessary to unconditionally respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria and other countries of the region. It is absolutely unacceptable to create threats to the lives and security of Russian servicemen who are in Syria at the invitation of its legitimate government to assist in the fight against terrorists."
The statement added that the Russian Foreign Ministry was particularly concerned about "the danger of escalation of tension within and around de-escalation zones in Syria, the creation of which has become an important factor in reducing violence on Syrian soil."
The US, meanwhile, issued a statement saying "Israel is our closest security partner in the region and we fully support Israel's inherent right to defend itself against threats to its territory and its people." The statement stressed, however, that "the Department of Defense did not participate in this military operation."
Pentagon spokesman Marine Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway said the US shares "the concerns of many throughout the region that Iran's destabilizing activities threaten international peace and security, and we seek greater international resolve in countering Iran's malign activities."
A State Department official said the Trump administration is "deeply concerned" by an escalation of military action along Israel's northern border with Syria, and "strongly supports Israel's sovereign right to defend itself. "Iran's calculated escalation of threat and its ambition to project its power and dominance, places all the people of the region — from Yemen to Lebanon — at risk," said State Department spokesman Heather Nauert. "The US continues to push back on the totality of Iran's malign activities in the region and calls for an end to Iranian behavior that threatens peace and stability."
Netanyahu spent much of the day in security consultations in Tel Aviv with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and other senior security officials. The security cabinet is expected to meet on Sunday to discuss the developments. On Wednesday, the security cabinet went to the Golan Heights to get an up-close view of the increasingly tense situation on the northern border.
Throughout the day Saturday, the Israel Air Force's actions were approved by the top political and security echelon. Intelligence Minister Israel Katz, who is also a member of the security cabinet, said that the Iranians "are crossing redlines" and "playing with fire." Saying that Iran's activities in Syria present a threat not only to Israel but to regional stability, he warned that Israel will not allow Iran to entrench itself militarily in Syria, violate Israeli sovereignty, transfer weapons through Syria to Hezbollah, or build an indigenous missile construction capability for Hezbollah in Lebanon. "Israel will continue to enforce its redlines, and all international and regional actors interested in stabilizing the region should work together to counter Iran, prevent it from basing itself in Syria, and stop its support of Hezbollah," the minister said.
Katz noted that Saturday's events did not "spill over into Hezbollah," something he said was a sign of Israel's deterrent capabilities. Meanwhile, Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon called on the Security Council not to stand idle "when Iran acts to dangerously escalate the situation in the region," adding that the council must "condemn this dangerous step and immediately end the Iranian provocations."
In a letter to Security Council, Danon wrote that "this is not the first time we have warned you against Iran's dangerous actions that undermine the security situation in the region. This incident proves that every one of these warnings proved true. Israel will defend its citizens and will not tolerate any violation of its sovereignty."
Extract: New York Times
The two pilots were able to parachute to safety before it came down in an empty field near the town of Harduf in northern Israel. It is unclear how exactly the plane was brought down.
The Israeli military said it inflicted huge damage on targets in Syria in the "most significant attack" of its kind against the country since the 1982 Lebanon war, carrrying out a second wave of strikes on both Syrian and Iranian military targets. Eight of the Syrian targets belonged to the fourth Syrian division near Damascus, IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus said. All the Israeli aircraft from this sortie returned safely. "We are not looking to escalate the situation," he added.
Syria's state media say air defences opened fire in response to an Israeli attack on a military base, hitting more than one plane.
Iran has since issued a statement denying Israel's allegations about the drone.
McMaster: Time is now to act against Iran's proxies
Sunday February 18, 2018
Reuters contributed to this report
US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster called Saturday on the international community to act against Iranian proxies in the Middle East. "This network of proxies is becoming more and more capable as Iran [places] more and more capable weapons, more and more destructive weapons into these networks, so the time is now to act against Iran," he said at the annual Munich Security Conference. McMaster accused Tehran of escalating a campaign to increase its influence in the Middle East by building "Hezbollah-style" proxy armies in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere as it has done in Lebanon. The goal is to weaken Arab governments and turn the proxy forces against those states if they pursue policies that run counter to Tehran's interests, he said.
On Friday, Netanyahu met with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the sidelines of the conference, and discussed the Iranian threat. Israel will continue to act against Iran in Syria if Tehran persists in developing its military presence there, the prime minister said. "Iran should not build its military bases there — we'll act against it," he said. With regard to the Golan Heights, Netanyahu said that the strategic area Israel captured from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War "will remain in the hands of Israel forever."
At the conference, McMaster spoke against the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons in April 2017. "Public accounts and photos clearly show that Assad's chemical-weapons use is continuing. It is time for all nations to hold the Syrian regime and its sponsors accountable for their actions and support the efforts of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons," he said.
McMaster also railed against the 2015 nuclear accord signed by Iran and six other countries, saying investments made by German firms and others were helping to fund Iran's missile program and its other activities in the Middle East. Echoing US President Donald Trump's view, McMaster said it was time to address "serious flaws in the Iran deal and counter Iran's destabilizing activities, including its development and proliferation of missiles."
Trump has been pushing for changes to the 2015 nuclear agreement under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear activities in return for the lifting of many sanctions. Iran insists it is implementing the nuclear agreement and has warned Washington of consequences if the accord is scrapped.
McMaster said those who invested in Iran were essentially funding the activities of the Revolutionary Guards Corps. He said Iran's biggest trading partners were Russia and China, as well as Japan, South Korea and Germany. "As a matter of international security and moral conscience we must stop doing business with [Revolutionary Guard Corps]-affiliated interests, encourage the development of a true commercial sector in Iran and pressure the regime to respect the rights of its people," McMaster said. Netanyahu has also called on the international community to fix the flaws in the deal, which he had always opposed and which he battled to persuade the Obama administration not to sign.
On March 5, Netanyahu is slated to meet with Trump at the White House, two US officials said on Friday. It will be his second White House visit and their fourth face-to-face meeting. "The president has a great relationship with the prime minister and looks forward to meeting with him," a White House official said.
Later on Sunday
Extract: Israel, Iran Trade Barbs At Munich Security Conference
Radio Free Europe
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP
MUNICH, Germany Israel's prime minister and the Iranian foreign minister have traded sharp words at a high-profile security conference, with Benjamin Netanyahu likening Iran to Nazi Germany and Mohammad Javad Zarif calling the Israeli leader's speech a "cartoonish circus."
Speaking for the first time ever at the Munich Security Conference on February 18, Netanyahu said Iran represents the "greatest threat to our world." He urged the international community to confront a "regime" in Tehran that "threatens peace," and at one point brandished what he said was a piece of an Iranian drone shot down by Israel over its territory earlier this month.
Addressing the conference in the southern German city — an annual gathering of world leaders, senior officials, and policy experts — Netanyahu also denounced as dangerous a landmark 2015 international deal to curb Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for some sanctions relief. That deal between Iran and six world powers has not moderated Iran "internally or externally," Netanyahu said.
He also said there were "striking similarities" between today's Iran and Nazi Germany, saying that the Iranian leadership wants to destroy Israel. Netanyahu sought to differentiate between Iran's citizens and "an Iranian regime that threatens peace," saying he has "no problem with the people of Iran."
Netanyahu also told the audience, which included US and European diplomats, that Iran is expanding its influence in the Middle East as the extremist group Islamic State (IS), also known as ISIS, lost most of the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria. "The unfortunate thing is that as ISIS compresses and Iran moves in, it is trying to establish this continuous empire surrounding the Middle East from the south in Yemen but also trying to create a land bridge from Iran to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza," he said. "This is a very dangerous development for our region," Netanyahu added.
Netanyahu warned that Iran should "not test Israel's resolve." "We will act if necessary not just against Iran's proxies but against Iran itself," he said. After holding up what he said was part of a recovered Iranian drone, Netanyahu called Zarif out by name, saying: "Do you recognize this? You should. It's yours."
Zarif took the stage just hours after Netanyahu's speech. Not mentioning the Israeli leader by name, he told the audience that earlier in the morning they had witnessed a "cartoonish circus" that "does not even deserve the dignity of a response."
He proceeded to deliver a litany of grievances against the United States and Israel, including US military involvement in the Middle East and what he called Israeli "aggression as a policy against its neighbors." He accused Israel of "mass reprisals against its neighbors and daily incursions" into Syria and Lebanon." "The entire speech was trying to evade the issue," Zarif said of Netanyahu's address.
Referring to the downing of the Israeli jet on February 10, Zarif told the Munich conference, "What has happened in the past several days is the so-called invincibility [of Israel] has crumbled." Answering a question about the nuclear agreement following his speech, Zarif warned that Iran would respond "seriously" if its "interests are not secured." He accused Netanyahu of trying to undermine the accord, saying that the world "will maintain that agreement in spite of his delusional attempts."
US President Donald Trump has accused Iran of violating the "spirit" of the nuclear accord and has said he wants to work with European allies and Congress to fix what he called "disastrous flaws" in the agreement. Trump warned that Washington would withdraw from the deal if terms were not strengthened by May.
Speaking during a panel discussion in Munich on February 18, former US Secretary of State John Kerry — one of the key players in negotiating the Iran nuclear deal — expressed continued support for the agreement. "I believe it is absolutely critical for Europe, for the world, to make sure we hold on to this agreement," Kerry said. "Because to go backward — we know what the world looks like without the Iran nuclear agreement. It is not a better place."
Iranian President Hassan Rohani said last month that Trump and his administration had "failed to undermine" the nuclear accord, "despite his repeated efforts." Rohani praised the nuclear deal as "a long-lasting victory for Iran."
US's Jerusalem Embassy to Open in May, Could Get Adelson Funds
The Wall Street Journal
Friday February 23, 2018
Jess Bravin and Rebecca Ballhaus contributed to this article
Casino magnate and GOP donor has offered to help pay for a new facility after initial personnel move
WASHINGTON: The State Department will open its embassy in Jerusalem in May and is entertaining an unusual offer from Sheldon Adelson, Republican Party donor and casino magnate, to help pay for a new facility after an initial move from Tel Aviv, US officials said.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson late Thursday signed off on security plans for converting a consular facility in Jerusalem's Arnona neighborhood. Officials said they are eyeing a ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 14 to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel's declaring independence. "We are excited about taking this historic step, and look forward with anticipation to the May opening," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
At first, David Friedman, US ambassador to Israel, and a small group of aides will begin working from the facility. Next, the State Department will begin retrofitting that complex to accommodate more officials, and the department has begun efforts to plan and locate a site for a new embassy facility in Jerusalem. Mr Adelson has offered to contribute to the effort to build a new embassy, but the discussions are informal so far. State Department officials are examining whether the US could accept such a gift. Mr Adelson's offer was earlier reported by the Associated Press. A representative to Mr Adelson didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
The embassy move and Mr Adelson's unconventional offer come amid an effort by Mr Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Mr Trump's chief negotiator, Jason Greenblatt, to try to restart the Middle East peace process between Israel and Palestinians. The offer of Mr Adelson's gift could complicate those efforts as Mr Adelson is a staunch supporter of Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and funds Israel Hayom, a pro-Netanyahu newspaper in Israel. At the United Nations this week, diplomats pressed Messrs. Kushner and Greenblatt on whether their plan would be biased toward Israel. They responded that they have spent months meeting with Palestinians, Israelis and others in the region to ensure evenhandedness.
Trump administration officials and Palestinian leadership haven't spoken since December, when Mr Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Mr Trump addressed the embassy during a speech Friday at a conference of conservative activists, calling recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital "the right thing to do," even as he was pressured not to follow through on what had been a campaign pledge.
Efforts to convert the Jerusalem facility or eventually build a new embassy are likely to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and Mr Adelson's offer could offset some of the costs, though it isn't clear whether private citizens have ever helped to fund embassies before. Mr Trump has been publicly critical of the steep price tag of the US embassy in London, which cost about $1 billion to build but was financed through the sale of other American properties in the UK.
The department's foreign-affairs manual gives guidance on how the State Department should treat gifts from private citizens, including weighing whether accepting would be a conflict of interest. The guidance says the US considers the gifts on a case-by-case basis and takes care to avoid the appearance of a conflict.
The US has maintained diplomatic representation in Jerusalem since the 19th century, and its consulate general there has remained administratively separate from the American embassy that opened in Tel Aviv after Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948.
Shortly before the official announcement in Washington, the US consul general in Jerusalem, Donald Blome, relayed the plans to about 200 employees in a series of town halls held back-to-back at three separate facilities under his oversight. The opening largely will be symbolic, with fewer than half a dozen desks assigned to the embassy, staff were told. A second phase will involve new construction, including secure space for classified materials and meetings, that will expand the embassy footprint to 15 desks; plans for the final phase in relocating the embassy, which will involve significantly expanded facilities, remain unclear.
Officials at the consulate general in Jerusalem, housed on Agron Road, will continue to focus on Palestinian issues, State Department officials said. Mr Trump is expected to meet with Mr Netanyahu at the White House on March 5, officials said. Mr Netanyahu will be in Washington to attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual conference.
Countering TV report, White House says Trump 'undecided' on Jerusalem
The Times of Israel
Tuesday March 27, 2018
Hadashot news says US president will not visit for ribbon-cutting of new embassy in May, citing Israeli sources.
The comment followed an Israeli TV report based on Israeli sources that said Trump had ruled out visiting Israel for the opening.
Asked to confirm the Hadashot TV news outlet report, White House spokesman Michael Anton told The Times of Israel the matter was "not decided." Sitting across from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office on March 5 when the two men met in Washington, the American president was asked if he would travel to Israel to cut the ribbon on the new facility, almost a year after his first visit to Jerusalem as president. "I may. I may," he said. "We're looking at coming. If I can, I will."
Israeli sources now say that he will not be at the ceremony, according to the report. They did not cite a reason.
Israel marks its annual Independence Day — Yom Ha'Atzmaut — according to the Hebrew calendar date that this year falls on April 19. However, a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the embassy is being planned for mid-May as the State of Israel proclaimed its independence on May 14, 1948.
The announcement of the May opening for the embassy was met with widespread anger among the Palestinians, prompting calls for enormous protest events, the largest of them planned for the Gaza Strip. Expected protests will also coincide with Nakba Day, a national day of Palestinian mourning marking the "catastrophe" of Israel's founding, commemorated every year on May 15. The Hamas terrorist organization that runs the Gaza Strip has warned it would not be able to contain the mass Palestinian protests against the embassy move. Earlier in March, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said "tens of thousands" of Gazans would march on the borders to protest the US move.
At first, the embassy will operate out of the US's current consular premises in Arnona, south Jerusalem, with only the ambassador and a small staff. A permanent mission is slated to be built in the coming years. Earlier Tuesday, Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said he had given permission to fast track the planning process for the changes to the consulate building to allow it to become the workplace for Ambassador David Friedman, including a new wall and escape ramp.
Hamas on Thursday urged Palestinians to "maintain the peacefulness" of the mass protests scheduled to take place along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, issuing a rare call for calm as both sides geared up for fresh violence Friday. A statement issued by Hamas's internal security apparatus also urged Palestinians to avoid friction with the Israel Defense Forces during the protests, which are part of the so-called March of Return orchestrated by the terror group and other Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip.
The statement was the first time that Hamas, a terror group which is sworn to Israel's destruction, has called on Palestinians to avoid friction with IDF soldiers. Last week's protest on Friday March 30 was also billed as a peaceful demonstration, but quickly devolved into violent and deadly confrontations between troops and Gaza protesters.
According to official reports, Israeli forces killed 18 Palestinians. Claims from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Ministry of Health set the number of injured at 1,416 from live fire, rubber bullets or tear gas intoxication, although independent estimates are unavailable. Thirty thousand people attended the events in several different locations along the Gazan–Israeli border. Their demands were that Palestinian refugees and their descendants be allowed to return to what is now Israel. Tires were burnt and Molotov cocktails and stones were thrown in the direction of the border.
Hamas acknowledges that at least five of its men were killed by IDF snipers. Israel has identified 10 members of Hamas and other terror groups were among those killed, and claims terrorists tried to use the chaos to plant bombs on the border or carry out attacks. Hamas leaders themselves threatened renewed violence tomorrow, with politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh saying last Sunday that protests might not stop at the border next time around.
The appeal to avoid friction tomorrow with the IDF is seen as a call to Palestinians not to go too close to the security fence, where they are at risk of being shot at by IDF snipers. It could also be interpreted as a call to Palestinians to refrain from engaging in violent actions, such as throwing stones and rocks at IDF soldiers. The Hamas security agency appealed to the demonstrators to "cooperate with the instructions of the organizers" of the March of Return. The agency advised Palestinians to avoid wearing clothes with standout colors, to camouflage their faces as much as possible, and to avoid taking photography and using smart phones. The "security recommendations" are specifically directed towards Hamas activists out of fear that they could be targeted by IDF snipers.
Asaad abu Sharkh, a spokesman and member of the organizing committee of the protests, also said better attempts will be made on Friday to keep Gazans from approaching the fence. "I think this was a mistake, a mistake of organisation from us because we shouldn't have let people [go to the border]," he said. "But at the same time we were not expecting the Israelis to shoot to kill." He added that "I don't think there is going to be another massacre." Responding to claims that the army targeted peaceful protesters, IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis said last week the IDF used "pinpoint fire" wherever there were attempts to breach or damage the security fence.
The Hamas appeal for calm came as Palestinians continued to transport hundreds of tires to the scenes of the planned protests Thursday. The demonstrators are hoping that large plumes of black smoke will block the view of the IDF snipers. But in a surprise move, some Palestinians on Thursday expressed opposition to the idea of the tire-burning, mainly because of the damage the smoke would cause to the environment. A group of Palestinian youths launched a campaign under the banner, "Instead of setting them on fire, let's decorate them" — a reference to the plan to burn the tires. The youths were seen painting tires in bright colors and planting some of them with flowers.
Amal Breikeh, one of the organizers of the campaign to save the tires, explained in an interview with the Gazaonline website: "We want to relay a civilized message to the world that illustrates the peacefulness of the protest. We want to stop the initiative to burn the tires because of the damage to the health of the protesters and the environment, despite its noble goal to stop the snipers from assassinating the peaceful protesters."
Meanwhile, the organizers of the "March of Return" on Thursday called on Palestinians to participate in rallies to commemorate the Palestinians who were killed in last Friday's events. The rallies will be held at the sites of the demonstrations planned for Friday. A statement issued by the National Forum of the March of Return, one of several bodies responsible for the protests, also urged Palestinians to maintain the "peacefulness" of the rallies.
7 Dead, Over 1000 Wounded as Gaza protests wind down
Friday April 6, 2018
Israeli troops shot dead seven Palestinian protesters and wounded at least 1000 along the Israel-Gaza border on Friday, Gaza medical officials said, raising the death toll to 27 in the week-long disturbances. They said the demonstrators, including two teenage boys aged 16 and 17, were killed at protest sites along the frontier during a round of daily demonstrations that has been dubbed "The Great March of Return."
The day of violence, which saw bigger Palestinian crowds than in recent days but not as large as when the demonstration began last Friday, calmed down as night descended.
Gazans, including Palestinian refugees and their descendants seeking to regain ancestral homes in what is now Israel, have set up tent encampments a few hundred meters inside the 65-km (40-mile) fence that separates Israel from the Gaza Strip. Large groups of youths have ventured much closer to the no-go zone along the barrier, risking live fire from Israeli troops to roll burning tires and throw stones. "Israel took everything from us, the homeland, freedom, our future," said Samer, a 27-year-old protester who would not give his full name, fearing Israeli reprisals. "I have two kids, a boy and a girl, and if I die, God will take care of them."
The number of protesters on Friday was larger than in recent days, but lower than the outset of the disturbances on March 30, when 17 Palestinians were fatally shot by Israeli forces. The Israeli military estimated Friday's turnout at around 20,000.
Refugees comprise most of the 2 million population of Israeli-blockaded Gaza, an enclave ruled by the Islamist movement Hamas which calls for Israel's destruction and is designated by Western states as a terrorist organization. Many of those killed were militants, said Israel, which stationed sharpshooters on the frontier to stop Palestinians attempting "any breach of the security infrastructure and fence, which protects Israeli civilians."
WAR OF WORDS
David Keyes, an Israeli government spokesman, accused Hamas of having instigated violent protests along the border. "This is a travesty for the Palestinian people that the Hamas government is encouraging its people to attack Israel, it is encouraging its people to commit acts of violence," he said.
Hamas's Gaza leader, Yehya Sinwar, spoke at a protest encampment to praise those who turned out to confront the "enemy who besieges us." He said the demonstrations would continue, telling the crowds: "We will uproot the borders, we will pluck out their hearts, and we will pray in Jerusalem."
Earlier, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem urged protesters to keep the rallies peaceful. "Maintaining the peaceful nature of the protests will strike all fragile Zionist propaganda," Qassem said in a statement.
Israel's response to the protests has drawn international criticism, with human rights groups saying it involved live fire against demonstrators posing no immediate threat to life.
The demonstrators have revived a longstanding demand for the right of return of Palestinian refugees to towns and villages which their families fled from, or were driven out of, when the state of Israel was created. The Israeli government has ruled out any right of return, fearing that the country would lose its Jewish majority.
Palestinian youths burned Israeli flags and planted Palestinian banners on dirt mounds beside tented encampments as others arrived on large trucks carrying piles of more tires to burn. Others launched stones with slingshots. With Israeli tear gas rising into the air, Palestinian youths used T-shirts, cheap medical masks and perfume to try and protect themselves. Israel tried to douse the burning rubber with jets of water directed over defensive dirt mounds on its side of the border.
A UN human rights spokeswoman urged Israel to exercise restraint against the Palestinian protesters. “We are saying that Israel has obligations to ensure that excessive force is not employed. And that if there is unjustified and unlawful recourse to firearms, resulting in death, that may amount to a wilful killing,” Elizabeth Throssell said in Geneva. Israel says it is doing what it must to defend its border and that its troops have been responding with riot dispersal means and fire "in accordance with the rules of engagement."
The Palestinian deaths have elicited scant concern in Israel, which has been the target of thousands of rocket strikes from Gaza over the past few years. Palestinian militant groups have also dug tunnels under the border fence to smuggle weapons, and to launch attacks.
** End of article