News / Middle East

Israel Confident Diplomatic Crisis With US Will Blow Over

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Luis Ramirez

Israel's foreign minister says his country has no intention of halting the expansion of a settlement in East Jerusalem that is fueling what some officials say is the worst rift in relations with Washington in decades.

Israeli police clashed with Palestinian demonstrators in East Jerusalem, throwing stun grenades and firing tear gas to disperse the mostly young Palestinians who pelted police with rocks.

The sporadic violence also spread to several villages and towns in the West Bank, including Ramallah and Nablus. Demonstrations also took place in the Gaza Strip.

For a fifth consecutive day, thousands of Israeli police deployed around East Jerusalem, including the Old City. Israeli national police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told VOA authorities continue to restrict entry by Palestinians to the Old City.

"The age limit is all males from the age of 50 and upwards are allowed on the Temple Mount area," said Rosenfeld. "Apart from that, the Temple Mount is closed to visitors, to Israelis, to Muslims, to foreigners. This is a measure that is necessary to be taken in order to prevent any disturbances or any injuries around that area."

Tensions have been fueled by the belief among Palestinians that Israeli Jews are extending their claims over East Jerusalem. The latest clashes erupted after Jews re-dedicated a synagogue not far from the al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam's third holiest site.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem years after capturing it from Jordan in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, in a move not recognized by the international community.

Tens of thousands of Jewish residents have since moved in, angering Palestinians who claim the east of the city as the capital of a Palestinian state.

The United States has demanded that Israel stop or restrict expansion of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, pending final status negotiations with the Palestinians.

There was no sign of Israel backing down. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman spoke on Israeli radio and rebuffed Washington's demands, describing them as unreasonable.

The top Israeli diplomat said he believes the diplomatic crisis with Washington will, over time, calm down. He said Israel will not accept a situation where only the Jews are not permitted to build in Jerusalem, while Arabs are allowed to build and buy.  

The Obama administration condemned Israel's decision last week to approve the construction of 1,600 housing units for Jewish residents in an East Jerusalem settlement. Israel angered Washington by announcing the decision as Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Jerusalem.

U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell had been due in Israel in an effort to get Israelis and Palestinians to start indirect negotiations. Mr. Mitchell postponed his visit to an unspecified date.

Israelis and Palestinians two weeks ago agreed to hold the talks, but the Palestinians say they might not engage in the negotiations as long as Israel keeps building settlements.

Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib laid out conditions for a return to talks.

He said the Palestinians want a guarantee from the United States that Israel will stop all kind of occupation activity, especially settlement expansion.

He said the Palestinians are also demanding that all issues, including the status of Jerusalem, be part of the negotiations, which he said should be carried out according to a timeline.

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