US to defy most of world with Jerusalem embassy move

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JERUSALEM: The United States moves its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem next week in defiance of the Palestinians and most of the world, likely further heightening tensions at a time of tumult in the region.

US President Donald Trump is set to make good on his pledge in December when he broke with decades of precedent and recognised the disputed city as Israel’s capital to global outcry.

The embassy inauguration due to take place Monday caps his decision but comes at a particularly fevered time, after weeks of deadly protests and clashes along the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel.

It also follows Trump’s announcement on Tuesday that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, creating a new level of uncertainty in the turbulent Middle East, and Israeli strikes on dozens of Iranian targets in Syria.

Thursday’s deadly air strikes followed rocket fire toward Israeli forces in the occupied Golan Heights that Israel blamed on Iran.

Monday’s ceremony will include some 800 guests and a White House delegation — though not Trump himself — at what until now had been a US consulate building in Jerusalem.

US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan will lead the delegation that will include Trump’s daughter Ivanka, her husband and senior White House aide Jared Kushner, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Less than 100 kilometres (60 miles) away, more protests are planned along the Gaza border, with some Palestinians vowing to rush the fence and try to break through despite Israeli snipers deployed on the other side.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sought to portray the “historic” US embassy move as encouraging other countries to do the same, though that has not played out on a significant level.

“I must tell you that the bold decision by President Trump has prompted other countries, quite a few now, who are planning to move their embassy to Jerusalem as well,” Netanyahu told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he visited Tel Aviv last month.

Senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath told journalists Wednesday that Trump is supporting “Israeli cleansing of our people from Jerusalem, and is giving Israel a chance to violate all the international law that guarded this situation”.

Beyond the disputed nature of the city, the embassy move will take on added signficance due to the date when it will occur.

May 14 marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel.

The following day is when the Palestinians mark the “Nakba,” or catastrophe, commemorating the more than 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes in the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.

Palestinian protests are planned on both days.