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2 killed, hundreds wounded after clashes erupt across West Bank, Gaza over US Jerusalem pivot

Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli forces on December 8, 2017 near the border fence with Israel, east of Gaza City. Palestinians clashed with Israeli security forces after calls for a ''day of rage'' as US President Donald Trump's declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital sent shockwaves through the region for a second day. (Mohammed Asad/APA Images/Zuma Press/TNS)

At least two Palestinians were killed and hundreds more wounded across the West Bank and Gaza, medical sources said Friday, as angry demonstrators took to the streets in another “day of rage” against President Donald Trump’s controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The Palestinian Health Ministry’s spokesman in Gaza said in a statement to Palestinian state news operator WAFA that two people had been killed in clashes with Israeli forces.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said earlier that it had treated about 331 wounded in the West Bank and Gaza, 13 of whom had been shot with live bullets. Most suffered injuries from rubber bullets or tear gas, the group said.

The protests come at a time of heightened tensions between Israelis and Palestinians in the wake of Trump’s announcement, which broke with decades of U.S. foreign policy as well as international law and spurred almost worldwide condemnation.

It pushed leaders of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas to call for another “intifada,” the uprising that flared up 30 years ago this month.

“The project of transforming Jerusalem into the occupation’s capital will not pass,” Hamas said in a statement released Thursday to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1987 intifada.

Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem during the 1967 war, claims that the city cannot be divided and is its capital. But peace talks have centered on the idea that East Jerusalem, which is dominated by Arabs despite a rising number of Israeli settlements, would be the capital of any future Palestinian state.

Before Wednesday, the U.S. position had been that the final status of Jerusalem would be determined by negotiations.

Friday’s unrest was less than had been expected, especially in Jerusalem, where Superintendent Mickey Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesman, said in a tweet that extra police units had been mobilized around Jerusalem and in the Old City to “respond to protests if necessary.”

He added that there would be no age restrictions on those entering the Al Aqsa mosque in the Old City. In the past, Israeli forces had imposed age limits on those entering the mosque — a move that infuriated Palestinians.

About 32,000 people had gathered for Friday prayers in Al Aqsa, according to local media outlet Jerusalem Online.

Despite calls to intensify protests during the “Friday of rage,” the sermon at Al Aqsa, according to worshipers interviewed, did not refer to Trump by name. It was thought to be a calming measure by Jordan’s Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs, which oversees Al Aqsa’s staff.

Jordan has been the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem since 1924. The agreement was renewed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2013.

Sporadic scuffles between Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops did break out, however, at East Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, especially when a number of youths raised a Palestinian flag (earlier posters featuring a vampire-like Trump or depictions of the president being thrown into a trash compactor elicited no response from Israeli authorities).

One reason for the muted response, said Abu Usama Asmar, a 58-year-old Palestinian souvenir shop owner, was that “we cannot do much, we are deprived of power.”

“Had we been able to change the situation, we would have done everything within our reach,” Asmar said.

“But this struggle isn’t over yet, and it cannot be decided in this short period.”

Others, such as 54-year-old Maher Mansour, said Friday’s relative calm did not detract from the seriousness of the situation.

“In fact, it is extremely dangerous and is like the lull that lasts before the outbreak of the big storm,” he said.

Trump’s decision brought tens of thousands of demonstrators to the major squares of cities across the region, with many viewing his shift as yet another example of the U.S.’s pro-Israel bias.

Jordanian TV news outlet Roya News said approximately 20,000 people had streamed into downtown Amman. Video uploaded to social media showed crowds shouting “Prepare for jihad.” Some burned the Israeli flag, while others carried posters of a Swastika imposed on Trump’s visage; “Trump = the Ugly Face of Nazism,” it read.

In Tehran’s Grand Mosque, firebrand preacher Ahmad Khatami said “Trump has shown that the only solution for the Palestinian cause is the intifada,” adding that the U.S. president suffered from “mental and psychological disorders.”

“Now it is time for unity of all Muslims and Palestinians,” said Mohammad Javad Hossaini, a 22-year old university student who had joined the protest in the Iranian capital after Friday prayers.

“Even anti-Zionist Jews and Christians must join us against Trump ‘s stupid decision.”

Protests were also held in the Lebanese capital of Beirut, where a large number of Palestinian refugees continue to live in separate enclaves.

“This foolish decision is a war crime, it strikes at the heart of Palestinian rights and the symbolism of the independent state,” said Ali Faisal, a leader with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, at a rally held near Beirut’s Sabra refugee camp.

“The real response must be an intifada, boycotting U.S. products and shuttering both U.S. and Israeli embassies.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson downplayed the significance of Trump’s decision, saying during a news conference in Paris that the move would not happen this year or “probably not next year,” but that the “president does want us to move in a very concrete, very steadfast way.”

Despite the widespread anger, there is a growing sense that regional governments will have to mobilize beyond the usual rhetoric if they are to get a reversal, said Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of Arab studies at Columbia University.

“If there is no Palestinian or Arab governmental action, whereby there is a tit-for-tat retaliation for what the U.S. has done, then Trump gets away with it,” Khalidi said in a phone interview on Friday.

In response, traditional U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia could cancel arms deals or boycott U.S.-made goods. Jordan is also set to become a staging ground for U.S. operations in the region, with a $143 million expansion of an airbase in the country’s northern region approved by the Pentagon.

Khalidi dismissed such moves as unlikely, but said the Palestinians, who have reportedly been threatened with a loss of U.S. funding if they do not accept a settlement, should emphasize that the U.S. has disqualified itself as a so-called honest broker.

“The important thing is to actually say we will no longer negotiate with or accept the U.S. as the sole mediator,” he said.

“That’s what people should be doing, not marching in the streets.”

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(Zedan reported from Jerusalem, Bulos from Beirut and Mostaghim from Tehran. All are Los Angeles Times special correspondents.)

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© 2017 Los Angeles Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.