Israeli soldiers clamp down as Palestinians protest Trump's peace plan across the West Bank

Israeli soldiers clamp down as Palestinians protest Trump's peace plan across the West Bank
Palestinian protesters across the West Bank were engulfed by tear gas as Israeli soldiers clamped down on the demonstrations.
5 min read
31 January, 2020
Palestinian demonstrator climbs a ladder with a flaming tyre in the occupied West Bank [AFP/Getty]

Palestinians across the occupied West Bank and Gaza protested Friday against US President Donald Trump's controversial peace plan for the region.

Several Palestinian demonstrators were injured by Israeli soldiers during a peaceful march in the village of Atouf, in the east of the West Bank near the Jordan Valley.

The plan, which gives Israel the green light to annex the strategic Jordan Valley, was seen as heavily biased towards Israel and was angrily rejected by Palestinians.

Medics told The New Arab's Arabic-language service that an injured demonstrator was transferred to hospital due to severe suffocation and loss of consciousness, after Israeli forces launched tear gas canisters at the peaceful march.

Meanwhile, Israel stepped up security in Jerusalem's Old City on Friday after President Trump enraged Palestinians with his so-called "Deal of the Century", but weekly prayers at the flashpoint al-Aqsa mosque passed off calmly.

One of the key bones of contention with the plan released Tuesday is its classification of Jerusalem as Israel's "undivided capital". Palestinians have long seen the city's eastern sector, which was occupied by Israel in 1967, as the capital of their future state.

Fears of tensions were raised Friday morning when a group of Palestinians protested at the al-Aqsa compound in East Jerusalem after dawn prayers.

Israeli police "responded and dispersed the gathering," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said, saying the protesters had chanted "nationalist" slogans.

But noon prayers, when more than 30,000 Palestinians attended the mosque, passed off without incident, religious officials and AFP journalists said.

The weekly prayers have previously been a rallying point for demonstrations. The imam who led the prayer is reported to have said that Trump's peace plan was a "failure and a lost cause," according to The New Arab's Arabic-language service.

The al-Aqsa mosque is the third-holiest site in Islam and also the most sacred for Jews, who revere it as the location of the two biblical-era Jewish temples.

Read more: Yes, Donald Trump really called Islam's third-holiest site the 'Al-Aqua mosque'

Rosenfeld said "heightened security" measures would be in place across the Old City and "police units will respond if necessary".

The Trump plan gives Israel the green light to annex the strategic Jordan Valley, which constitutes some 30 percent of the West Bank, as well as all Israeli settlements, which now number more than 200, including those in annexed east Jerusalem.

The settlements are home to some 600,000 Israelis but are considered illegal under international law.

Immediately after Trump presented the plan flanked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, officials said they would swiftly submit an annexation bill to cabinet on Sunday.

But the situation seemed less clear on Friday, after Trump's adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner said a decision would be best left until a new government has been formed after a March 2 election.

Trouble in the West Bank

Israeli forces prevented four buses, containing roughly 200 young men, from travelling through the West Bank at a military checkpoint close to the Jordan Valley.

The Palestinian Forum for Photography and Exploration tour group were travelling down from the north of the West Bank to explore the Al-Sakoot area.

In the Ramallah area, a number of Palestinian suffered from suffocation due to tear gas as Israeli soldiers clamped down on a hundred-strong protest march.

The march set off from the town of Bilin, near Ramallah, and headed towards the separation barrier, where protesters burned tires. Israeli soldiers fired rubber bullets at the demonstrators, causing dozens of injuries.

"The deal of the century will not pass. There are many conspiracies against the Palestinian people and they will fail due to our efforts," activist Ahmad Abu Rahma told The New Arab.

There were also reports of protests and clashes in the flashpoint city of Hebron.

Gaza protests, rockets

The acting head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Christian Saunders, said Friday that Palestinians were in a "state of shock" over the US plan.

"We certainly have serious concerns that it will result in an escalation in clashes and in violence," he added.

At least 30 Palestinians have been wounded since Tuesday in clashes with Israeli forces in the West Bank, although the demonstrations have mostly been small.

In Hamas-controlled Gaza, thousands gathered for demonstrations this week.

Many more donned badges proclaiming "no to the deal of the century".

There has been some rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, but on nothing like the scale of barrages launched during multiple flare-ups last year.

Israel carried out air strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza early Friday after three rockets were fired the previous evening, causing neither casualties nor damage, the army said.

And on Friday afternoon the Israeli army said that three mortar rounds were fired from Gaza into Israel, prompting a retaliatory strike by a tank on a "Hamas military post" in the south of the enclave.

It said that one of the mortar rounds was intercepted by Israel's missile defence system. The other two were suspected to have landed on open ground. There were no reports of injuries.

Hamas and Israel have fought three wars since 2008 but over the past year the Islamists have gradually shaped an informal truce with Israel, under which the Jewish state has slightly eased its crippling blockade of Gaza in exchange for calm.

Quest for Arab support

The Palestinians have sought to rally international support against the plan, which they see as illegal and a violation of their rights.

"What we're trying to do here is to get international consensus behind us, behind President Mahmoud Abbas and his determination to achieve peace," said Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.

But there was a muted response, even within the Arab world.

Both Egypt and the Gulf Arab states held off on any immediate criticism of their US ally, saying they would study the plan's contents.

Those governments have quietly moved closer to Israel in recent years amid shared hostility towards Iran.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday accused some Arab countries of "treason" for backing the US plan, singling out Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman for criticism.

Abbas will try to rally opposition at an emergency meeting of the Arab League in Cairo on Saturday.

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