US downgrades Palestinian mission, places it under embassy in Israel

In this file photo taken on May 14, 2018 US ambassador to Israel David Friedman delivers a speech during the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. The United States downgraded its main diplomatic mission to the Palestinians on Thursday, October 18, 2018, placing it under the authority of the US embassy to Israel. (AFP / MENAHEM KAHANA)
Updated 19 October 2018
0

US downgrades Palestinian mission, places it under embassy in Israel

  • The move will make the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, the main interlocutor with the Palestinian leadership
  • Pro-Israel advocates hailed the decision, saying it confirmed the US recognized the whole of Jerusalem as part of Israel

WASHINGTON: The United States downgraded its main diplomatic mission to the Palestinians on Thursday, placing it under the authority of the US embassy to Israel.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the consulate general, a separate office which handled dealings with the Palestinians, would be replaced by a new Palestinian Affairs Unit inside the controversial new US embassy in Jerusalem.
The move will make the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who is reviled by Palestinians over his support for Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the main interlocutor with the Palestinian leadership.
The change, quickly condemned by the Palestinians, follows a series of setbacks for them at the hands of President Donald Trump, who has turned US policy sharply toward Israel.
Pro-Israel advocates hailed the decision, saying it confirmed the US recognized the whole of Jerusalem as part of Israel.
“This decision is driven by our global efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our operations. It does not signal a change of US policy,” Pompeo said in a statement.
He said the United States “continues to take no position” on how any peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians would take shape.
The Palestinian leadership rejected Pompeo’s “efficiency” explanation.
The decision has “a lot to do with pleasing an ideological US team that is willing to disband the foundations of American foreign policy, and of the international system, in order to reward Israeli violations and crimes,” the Palestinians’ chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said.
“The Trump administration is part of the problem, not part of the solution,” he added.
International powers have for decades maintained separate and autonomous representations to Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of supporting the eventual creation of an independent Palestinian state.
They have insisted that the status of Jerusalem, which both the Israelis and Palestinians see as their capital, should be negotiated between the parties as part of any end deal.
Last December, Trump reversed longstanding US policy and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, prompting Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to boycott his administration.
The embassy was officially transferred on May 14.
Since then, the Trump administration has forced the Palestinians to shutter their Washington mission and has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, in a bid to force them to the negotiating table.
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, alongside Friedman and peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, has been working for months on a still-secret peace proposal, which Palestinians fear will be overly one-sided toward Israel.
The move Thursday nearly closes off all direct diplomatic contacts between the United States and the Palestinians, analysts said.
Ofer Zalzberg of the International Crisis Group think-tank said the US would be the only major power without a separate, independent representative office for the Palestinians.
“Other countries have gone to great lengths to avoid having the same representatives to Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” he told AFP.
Robert Danin, a former senior US government official dealing with Israeli-Palestinian issues, said the move was a victory for “hard right partisans” who have sought to eliminate the Palestinian-focused consulate general “for decades.”
The consulate general “is THE eyes and ears into Palestinian politics and society. Its independence from US Embassy Israel provided Washington w/solid, unvarnished reporting and analysis,” he said on Twitter.
But Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor with the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum and advocate for the embassy move, said the decision was more evidence the US considered Jerusalem to be fully part of Israel.
“This step confirms that the US recognizes the entire city as Israel’s capital,” he said.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert defended the move, saying the new Palestinian Affairs Unit inside the embassy would maintain contacts with Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem at the same level as before the change.
“We value our relationship with the Palestinian people. We look forward to continued partnership and dialogue with them and, we hope in future, with the Palestinian leadership,” she said via Twitter.


Sudan protesters, police clash as anti-Bashir unrest spreads

Updated 18 January 2019
0

Sudan protesters, police clash as anti-Bashir unrest spreads

  • Worst clashes in Khartoum’s Burri district
  • rotests spread to six other cities
KHARTOUM: Stone-throwing Sudanese demonstrators battled security forces in Khartoum on Thursday, witnesses said, and a child and a doctor were reported killed at the start of a fifth week of protests against President Omar Al-Bashir’s 30-year rule.
Protests also broke out in six other cities in some of the most widespread disturbances since the unrest began on Dec. 19. The Sudan Doctors’ Committee, a group linked to the opposition, said the doctor and child were killed by gunshot wounds during the violence.
Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of a government-affiliated private hospital in Khartoum’s Burri neighborhood, where activists said the two died of their injuries. The protests continued into early Friday. Demonstrators chanted: “Freedom” and “Until the morning, we’re staying,” video footage showed.
Police could not immediately be reached for comment on the reported deaths.
The protests were triggered by price rises and cash shortages, but have quickly developed into demonstrations against Bashir.
In the day’s most violent clashes, police in Burri fired rubber bullets and tear gas and chased demonstrators with batons, witnesses said. Several people were overcome with tear gas, while some were bruised by rubber bullets and others beaten.
Hundreds of young men and women blocked streets and alleyways with burning tires, witnesses said. Some hurled stones at security forces. Many recited the chant that has become the crying call of demonstrators: “Down, that’s it,” to send the message that their only demand is Bashir’s fall.
Demonstrators also taunted security forces by ululating each time a stone-throwing demonstrator hit police, witnesses said.
A live video posted on social media and verified by Reuters showed security forces pointing guns at protesters in Burri. A sound of gunfire could be heard.

‘Why are you shooting?’
In the video, a demonstrator yelled: “Why are you shooting?” as protesters, some wearing masks as protection from tear gas, ducked to avoid the firing. It was not clear if rubber or live bullets were used. One man who appeared to be injured and had spots of blood on his shirt was carried away.
“There were people shooting at us,” one protester told Reuters.
He said he saw five people fall to the ground, adding he was not sure if they were hit by rubber or live bullets. He said he saw a few other injured people being carried away. Security forces blocked the area and the wounded were unable to reach a hospital, he said.
Instead they were being treated in a makeshift emergency room inside a home. At some point, security forces approached the makeshift clinic and fired tear gas into it as the wounded were being treated, three witnesses said.
A police spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment on the witnesses’ account of the Burri clashes.
Hundreds also protested in Al-Qadarif, Atbara, Port Sudan, Al-Dueim, Omdurman and Al-Ubayyid, drawing tear-gas volleys from police, witnesses said.
Security forces have at times used live ammunition to disperse demonstrations. The official death toll stands at 24, including two security forces personnel. Amnesty International has said that more than 40 people have been killed.

”Bashir blames foreign ‘agents’
Bashir has blamed the protests on foreign “agents” and said the unrest would not lead to a change in government, challenging his opponents to seek power through the ballot box.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Thursday that she was deeply worried about reports of excessive use of force by Sudanese security forces.
“The government needs to ensure that security forces handle protests in line with the country’s international human rights obligations by facilitating and protecting the right to peaceful assembly,” said Bachelet, a former Chilean president.
Sudan has struggled economically since losing three-quarters of its oil output — its main source of foreign currency — when South Sudan seceded in 2011, keeping most of the oilfields.
The protests began in Atbara, in northeastern Sudan, a month ago when several thousand people took to the streets after the government raised bread and fuel prices to reduce the cost of subsidies.
Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court over charges, which he denies, of masterminding genocide in the Darfur region, had been lobbying to be removed from the list of countries, along with Syria, Iran and North Korea, that Washington considers state sponsors of terrorism.
That listing has prevented an influx of investment and financial aid that Sudan was hoping for when the United States lifted sanctions in 2017, according to economists.
Sudan has been rapidly expanding its money supply in an attempt to finance its budget deficit, causing spiralling inflation and a steep decline in the value of its currency.
Sudan’s inflation rate increased to 72.94 percent in December from 68.93 percent in November, state news agency SUNA said.