Turkey, Lebanon FMs discuss J’lem in phone conversation

            By Wasim Saif al-Din <br>

BEIRUT (AA) – Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday spoke with Lebanese counterpart Gibran Bassil with whom he discussed means of "discouraging" the planned relocation of several foreign embassies to Jerusalem.

This came during a telephone call Bassil received from Cavusoglu, according to a statement issued by Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry.

The ministry noted that the two FMs had discussed joint measures that might be taken with a view to dissuading certain states from relocating their respective embassies to Jerusalem or recognizing the city as Israel’s capital.

Cavusoglu and Bassil also reportedly discussed recent developments in the region, including Syria, and bilateral relations between their two countries.

Last November, Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro announced his intention to relocate his country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, with the Czech Republic following suit shortly afterward.

So far, the U.S. and Guatemala are the only two states to have officially relocated their embassies to Jerusalem.

The Palestinian Authority, the Cairo-based Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation have all urged world capitals not to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or transfer their embassies to the city.

ISESCO chooses Jerusalem as Capital of Islamic Culture

            By Khalid Mejdoub, Gulsen Topcu</p>  <p>RABAT (AA) - The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) said Thursday it has chosen Jerusalem as the Capital of Islamic Culture for 2019.</p>  <p>Speaking at a press conference in Morocco's capital Rabat on ISESCO’s declaration of 2019 as the Year of Heritage in the Islamic World, Director General Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri said the organization has launched a comprehensive program to boost Islamic and international support for the preservation of cultural heritage in Jerusalem.</p>  <p>He also urged the relevant authorities in the member states of the organization to support the initiative by organizing projects and cultural programs to increase the awareness about the heritage.</p>  <p>Altwaijri proposed to declare other 2019 cultural capitals as brother cities to Jerusalem and urged each of these countries to allocate a week on Jerusalem within the framework of cultural capital programs.

Israel opens highway separating Palestinians, settlers

            JERUSALEM (AA) – The Palestinian Foreign Ministry has condemned a decision by the Israeli authorities to open a road that separates Palestinian communities from a Jewish-only settlement northeast of Jerusalem. <br>  </p>  <p>“The opening of this road comes within the framework of Israel’s ongoing efforts to undermine any chance of reaching a political solution,” the ministry said in a Thursday statement. <br>  </p>  <p>It added: &quot;Israel continues to impose an apartheid regime in occupied Palestine.” <br>  </p>  <p>According to Israeli daily Haaretz, the Israeli authorities recently reopened the controversial highway in a formal inauguration ceremony. </p>    <p>Dubbed &quot;Apartheid Road&quot;, Route 4370 links the Jewish-only Geva Binyamin Settlement to the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway. <br>  </p>  <p>“The road is divided in the middle by a high wall,” Haaretz explained. “The western side serves Palestinians who cannot enter Jerusalem, while the eastern side is reserved for Israeli settlers.” <br>  </p>  <p>The opening ceremony was reportedly attended by Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon, Transport Minister Yisrael Katz and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan. <br>  </p>  <p>Katz later described the move as “an important step towards linking Binyamin Council residents [i.e., settlers] to Jerusalem”. <br>  </p>  <p>According to Haaretz, the road was built over a decade ago. It had remained closed, however, due to a long-running dispute between the Israeli army and police over who should man checkpoints along the highway.

Israeli court jails 3 Palestinians from Jerusalem

By Fatima Abu Sbitan

JERUSALEM (AA) – An Israeli court has jailed three Palestinians from the city of Jerusalem for an alleged shooting plot, according to a defense lawyer on Tuesday.

The Central District Court sentenced Mohammed Abu Khudair and Omar Maatouk to six years and a half in prison each for allegedly planning to carry out a shooting attack on settlers, Mohammad Hamoud told Anadolu Agency.

The court also slapped a third Jerusalemite, Abbas al-Salhi, with a six-year jail term on similar charges, he said.

Israeli authorities have jailed dozens of Palestinian youths for alleged attacks against Israelis since Oct. 2015.

Israeli forces rounded up 6,489 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in 2018, according to the Commission of Detainees and Ex-detainees Affairs.

Jerusalem remains at the heart of the decades-long Middle East conflict, with Palestinians hoping that East Jerusalem — occupied by Israel since 1967 — might one day serve as the capital of a Palestinian state.

Palestine slams Israeli call to destroy Jerusalem walls

By Qais Abu Samra

RAMALLAH (AA) – The Palestinian Foreign Ministry on Sunday decried Israeli calls for demolishing sections of walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.

In a statement, the ministry described the calls as “an escalation in the war of Judaization against the city and its surroundings”.

According to the ministry, Aryeh King, a member of the Israeli Jerusalem municipality's council, called on social media to "destroy sections of Jerusalem walls".

The ministry called on the Arab and Islamic worlds to "deal seriously with the calls to demolish the walls of Jerusalem."

There was no comment from Israeli authorities on the statement.

Palestinians have long accused Israel of waging a campaign to “Judaize” East Jerusalem with the aim of effacing its historical Arab and Islamic identity and ultimately driving out its Palestinian inhabitants.

Israel occupied the Palestinian West Bank, including East Jerusalem, during the 1967 Middle East War. It annexed the entire city in 1980, claiming it as the capital of the Jewish state — a move never recognized by the international community.

International law continues to view the West Bank and East Jerusalem as “occupied territories” and considers all Jewish settlement-building activity on the land as illegal.

Israel okayed 10,000+ settlement units in 2018: Report

            JERUSALEM (AA) – The Israeli authorities approved construction of 10,298 new Jewish-only settlement units in the occupied West Bank last year, according to a report released Wednesday by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). <br>  </p>  <p>Of these, 2,600 were built in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, the report states. <br>  </p>  <p>According to the report, the Israeli authorities approved a new settlement -- the Amihai settlement -- near the West Bank city of Nablus, along with a new neighborhood in the Gush Etzion settlement near Bethlehem. <br>  </p>  <p>The report also asserts that the Israeli authorities confiscated 3,439 dunums of West Bank land, including 1,182 dunums in the strategic Jordan valley, over the same period. (An Ottoman-era unit of land measurement, one dunum is roughly equivalent to 1,000 square meters.) <br>  </p>  <p>The report goes on to state that Israel last year uprooted some 7,600 olive, palm and almonds trees in the West Bank. <br>  </p>  <p>It also states that the Israeli authorities demolished 538 homes and structures last year, while issuing demolition orders for another 460 structures. <br>  </p>  <p>These demolitions, the report states, resulted in the displacement of some 1,300 Palestinians, including 225 children. <br>  </p>  <p>Israel occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It later annexed the city in 1980, claiming it as the self-proclaimed Jewish state’s “eternal capital” -- a move never recognized by the international community. <br>  </p>  <p>International law views the West Bank -- including East Jerusalem -- as “occupied territory” and considers all Israeli settlement building there to be illegal.

Israel PM lobbies Honduras to open embassy in Jerusalem

By Abdul Raouf Arnaout

JERUSALEM (AA) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lobbied the Honduran president to move his country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

This came during a joint meeting between Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez in Brazil on the sidelines of the inauguration of new Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

During the meeting, Netanyahu discussed the relocation of the Tegucigalpa embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, according to official Israeli and U.S. statements.

In a Wednesday statement, Netanyahu’s office said the meeting dealt with the opening of the Honduran Embassy in Jerusalem and an Israeli embassy in the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa.

According to the statement, the talks on moving the Honduran Embassy to Jerusalem was first discussed during a visit by Netanyahu's wife Sara to Guatemala last December.

The statement, which was cited by The Times of Israel newspaper, said the meeting “discussed advancing the opening of the two embassies in Jerusalem and Honduras.”

The U.S. Department of State, for its part, said in a statement that the three parties "agreed to pursue a plan of action, which includes meetings in their three respective capitals, to advance the process of the decision to open embassies in both Tegucigalpa and Jerusalem."

The U.S. and Guatemala have already transferred their embassies to Jerusalem.

In recent months, the Palestinian Authority, the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have called upon countries not to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel nor transferring their embassies to the occupied city.

Jerusalem remains at the heart of the decades-long Middle East conflict, with Palestinians hoping that East Jerusalem — occupied by Israel since 1967 — might one day serve as the capital of a Palestinian state.

Palestinian jailed for life over land sale to Israelis

By Qais Abu Samra

RAMALLAH (AA) – A Palestinian court has jailed a man for life for easing a land sale to Jewish settlers in the occupied city of East Jerusalem, according to the Supreme Judicial Council on Monday.

The council did not identify the man, giving only his initials I. A.

Sources, however, identified the convict as Issam Aqel, a resident of Jerusalem, who holds U.S. citizenship.

Last month, the official Wafa news agency said the Palestinian Authority and intelligence service were facing pressure to release a man accused of “leaking real estate to settlers in Jerusalem”.

On Nov. 28, U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, called for Aqel’s release, saying he was an American citizen.

The Palestinian leadership suspended contact with the U.S. administration late last year after U.S. President Donald Trump announced a controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Palestine urges int’l probe into Jerusalem excavations

By Ayse Sumeyra Aydogdu and Eyser el-Iys

RAMALLAH, Palestine (AA) – The Palestinian Foreign Ministry has called for forming an international commission to investigate Israeli excavations in the occupied city of East Jerusalem and beneath the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

In a statement on Saturday, the ministry warned that the Israeli diggings pose a major threat to Palestinian houses in the occupied city.

“These excavations aim to cause cracks in Palestinian houses, with Israeli authorities ordering residents to leave these houses on the ground that they are not fit for living,” the ministry said.

The ministry went on to describe the Israeli eviction of Palestinians from their homes as a “large-scale, systematic ethnic cleansing”.

There was no comment from Israeli authorities on the ministry’s statement.

Israel refuses to allow access to UNESCO to examine the holy sites in East Jerusalem.

In July 2017, the UNESCO executive board adopted a resolution that slammed “the failure of the Israeli occupying authorities to cease the persistent excavations, tunneling, works, projects and other illegal practices in East Jerusalem, particularly in and around the Old City of Jerusalem, which are illegal under international law”.

The resolution further stated that “legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying power, which have altered — or purport to alter — the character and status of the holy city of Jerusalem… are null and void and must be rescinded forthwith”.

In 2016, UNESCO passed a resolution describing Jerusalem as an “occupied” city and Israel as an “occupying power”, which — under international law — has no sovereignty over the historic city.

The same resolution stated that Jerusalem’s Old City was “entirely Palestinian”, going on to emphasize its historical “Muslim and Christian” identity and heritage.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. In a move never recognized by the international community, it unilaterally annexed the entire city in 1980, claiming it as its “eternal and undivided” capital.

Palestinian ‘Santas’ barred from J’lem for Christmas

            By Mustafa Deveci <br>  </p>  <p>JERUSALEM (AA) - Palestinian Christians dressed up as Santa Claus for Christmas have been forbidden by Israel to enter Jerusalem, one of the world’s holiest sites for Christians, as Jesus is believed to have lived and preached there. <br>  </p>  <p>In general, Palestinian Christians from the West Bank -- like their Muslim counterparts -- can’t enter Jerusalem without special permission from the Israeli authorities.</p>  <p>Many now live in isolated communities that have been cut off from each other by Israel’s “separation barrier”, which snakes through the Israeli-occupied West Bank.</p>  <p>On Monday, several Palestinian &quot;Santa Clauses&quot; celebrated Christmas in the city of Bethlehem, located roughly 10 kilometers south of Jerusalem and considered Jesus’s historical birthplace.</p>  <p>Some of them carried banners, reading, &quot;We want a free Palestine for Christmas&quot; and &quot;We want a Palestine without Jewish settlements&quot;. <br>  </p>  <p>Palestinian officials in Ramallah, meanwhile, say they have allowed 650 Palestinian Christians from the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip to enter the West Bank (which is partially administered by the Palestinian Authority) for Christmas. <br>  </p>  <p>According to a report by Palestine’s official statistics agency, more than 46,000 Palestinian Christians live in the West Bank, representing some 2 percent of the total population. </p>  <p><br></p>  <p>When Palestine was under Ottoman Turkish rule in 1914, this figure stood at more than 10 percent. <br>  </p>  <p>About 3,000 Palestinian Christians, meanwhile, are estimated to live in the Gaza Strip. <br>  </p>  <p>Following Israel’s creation in 1948, most Palestinian Christians were forced to leave their homes and become refugees.</p>  <p>Currently, an estimated 500,000 Palestinian Christians live in various communities scattered across the globe. <br>  </p>  <p>The West Bank and East Jerusalem remain cut off from one another by Israel’s draconian “separation barrier”, construction of which first began in 2002 with the ostensible aim of protecting Israel from Palestinian attacks.</p>    <p>The Israeli army has established checkpoints along the length of the wall, which in some areas reaches up to eight meters in height.</p>    <p>During the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, Palestinian women from the West Bank (along with males under 12 or above 40 years old) are allowed to enter Jerusalem -- but only on Fridays. <br>  </p>  <p>Late last year, Israeli troops responded with teargas and rubber bullets after Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem staged demonstrations against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.</p>  <p><br></p>  <p>*Ali Murat Alhas contributed to this report from Ankara