Trump's Jerusalem Decision Defended Amid Backlash

A Palestinian protester with a Palestinian flag runs past a burning barricade during clashes with Israeli border guards in Ramallah, West Bank on Dec. 9. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
A Palestinian protester with a Palestinian flag runs past a burning barricade during clashes with Israeli border guards in Ramallah, West Bank on Dec. 9. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and eventually move the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv, continued to have repercussions across the Middle East on Saturday.

As violence continued for a third day in Gaza, the leader of Egypt's Coptic Church and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas both canceled plans to meet with Vice President Mike Pence during Pence's visit to the region later this month.

A statement from the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt said Trump's decision "did not take into account the feelings of millions of Arab people."

On Friday, the grand imam Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, also said he would not meet with Pence, Egyptian media reported.

Late Saturday, the Arab League issued a statement calling on Trump to reverse his decision, which it described as a "dangerous violation of international law."

"The decision amounts to the legalization of occupation," Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, leader of the Arab League, said in Cairo on Saturday at the start of an emergency meeting of the league's foreign ministers.

The decision, he said, raised questions about whether Washington could continue to be a peace mediator, not just in the Middle East but across the globe.

Tillerson: 'Nothing is different'

The Trump administration appeared to have no immediate public reaction to Saturday's developments. But U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday defended Trump's decision, saying it called for few changes from what the U.S. is already doing, and that reactions in the Middle East have been overblown.

"The reality is, as you wake up today after this announcement, is nothing is different, other than the president has now implemented the 1995 law" that calls on the administration to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Tillerson said, according to CNN.

Tillerson also noted that the planned relocation of the U.S. Embassy was unlikely to happen quickly.

"We have to acquire a site, we have to develop building plans, we'll have to construct a building," Tillerson said, according to CNN. "So this is not something that will happen overnight."

On Friday, Tillerson rejected the notion that Trump's decision would block the Palestinians from retaining a portion of Jerusalem.

"In fact, he was very clear, I think, the final status of Jerusalem, including the borders, would be left to the parties to negotiate and decide," Tillerson said, according to Reuters.

Violence in Gaza

Meanwhile, violence continued in Gaza for a third day, Reuters reported.

Israeli air strikes killed two Palestinian fighters Saturday after militants fired rockets into Israel on Friday, which had been declared a "day of rage" by Palestinian factions, the report said.

In Europe, pro-Palestinian demonstrators staged protests in Rome and in Paris, where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to meet Sunday with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Netanyahu: No condemnation for airstrikes?

Netanyahu defended Trump's Jerusalem decision.

"I hear [from Europe] voices of condemnation over President Trump's historic announcement but I have not heard any condemnation for the rocket firing against Israel that has come [after the announcement] and the awful incitement against us," Netanyahu said, according to Reuters.

In Rome, some Italian demonstrators expressed dismay that Italy's top cycling race, Giro d'Italia, will start next year in Jerusalem.

Other protesters held Palestinian flags, and some shouted slogans against Israel. One participant held a sign reading, "Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the State of Palestine."

In Paris, tensions grew at the Place de la Republique demonstration when pro-Israeli protestors approached the rally brandishing Israeli and U.S. flags. The police separated both groups and no further incidents were reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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