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Iran parliament nod for Jerusalem-Palestine bill

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TEHRAN, Dec 27, (Agencies): Iranian lawmakers, with 198 votes in favor and one abstained, approved Wednesday the outlines of a bill to support Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.

According to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), the Law tasks the Presiding Board of the Parliament to “deepen and broaden this support through different methods and convenes representatives of Muslim countries and pundits on appropriate occasions.” Iranian lawmakers made the move after the US President Donald Trump decided on Dec 6 to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city.

Political figures and international organizations, including the United Nations (UN) as well as all the European Union (EU), have warned the US not to transfer its embassy.

On Dec 21, the United Nation General Assembly (UNGA) voted a motion to reject the US decision. It got 128 votes in favor and only nine against the motion. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono on Tuesday ruled out the possibility of moving Japan embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Japan believes that the Holy City is one of the final status issues on the agenda of the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, so the future of the city can be determined only through direct negotiations, he said. Kono, now on a visit to Jordan, made the comments during his two meetings with Jordanian Prime Minister Hani Al-Mulki and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, according to a statement by the Jordanian Foreign Ministry. The talks focused on the developments in the Middle East, including Jerusalem, as well as bilateral issues.

The Japanese guest said his country shares view with the Kingdom of Jordan that the final status issues, including Jerusalem, can be resolved through direct negotiations not unilateral moves. Japan supports the international efforts to resolve the Middle East conflict based on the two-state vision and the relevant UN resolutions, he said, noting that these resolutions consider East Jerusalem as an occupied territory. For his part, Prime Minister Al-Mulki said the Holy City is a political issue of concern to the entire Muslim world. He reiterated Jordan’s rejection of the recent US decision to recognize Jerusalem as capital of Israel, affirming that this move runs contrary to the international legitimacy.

On the bilateral ties, he appreciated Japan’s technical assistance to the Kingdom to meet its humanitarian and economic needs. He highlighted economic challenges and burdens facing Jordan due to instability in the Middle East region, particularly in Syria. He said the Jordanian government was looking forward to support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to establish a training center in the field of technology to provide qualitative training for young job seekers in Jordan. During his meeting with the Japanese minister, Safadi stressed the need to abide by international resolutions relating to Jerusalem that nullify any unilateral moves to change the legal and historic status quo in the Holy City. He briefed his Japanese guest on Jordan’s role to protect Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem. Safadi highlighted the need of a collective international effort to re-launch the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks based on the two-state vision for establishing an independent Palestinian state within the June 4, 1967, borderlines with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Kono hailed Jordan’s efforts to restore peace, security and stability to the Middle East. Tokyo appreciates Jordan’s efforts in hosting large numbers of Syria and Palestinian refugees, he said, pledging that Japan will continue providing technical help to the infrastructure projects in the northern governorates of Jordan.

The two sides agreed to pursue cooperation to address regional crises and combat terrorism, the statement added. Saudi King Salman and Turkey’s premier on Wednesday discussed boosting ties and the status of Jerusalem, in a first high-level meeting since the US controversially recognised the city as Israel’s capital. Firm US ally Riyadh and NATO member Ankara have both slammed President Donald Trump’s December 6 decision to upend decades of careful policy by Washington. But the Saudis only sent a lowlevel representative to a conference of Muslim nations on the issue hosted by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, amid signs of strains in their relations.

The Saudi SPA agency said King Salman received Prime Minister Binali Yildirim in Riyadh and discussed “means of boosting bilateral ties and developments in the region,” without providing details. Yildirim’s office in Ankara said the status of Jerusalem and supporting the Palestinians were discussed at the meeting. “The importance of the status of Jerusalem was emphasised and that the whole Islamic world should act with unity to protect the rights of our Palestinian brothers,” the office said citing Yildirim.

He also said that they discussed bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia “one of the most important countries in the Gulf and the Middle East”. Ties between the sides soured following the 2013 ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, but warmed after King Salman’s accession to the throne eighteen months later. However, analysts say there are signs ties are being tested again as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has shaken up the kingdom and amassed power. Turkish officials have avoided public criticism of Saudi Arabia but pro-government press have stepped up attacks on the kingdom, especially over its strong alliance with US President Donald Trump.

Erdogan last week also lashed out at the powerful foreign minister of Saudi’s chief regional ally the UAE after he retweeted a social media post critical of the early 20th century Ottoman governor of Madinah. Israel’s transportation minister is pushing ahead with a plan to dig a railway tunnel under Jerusalem’s Old City, passing near sites holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims — and ending at the Western Wall with a station named after President Donald Trump.

Yisrael Katz’s plan, currently in the initial stages, involves constructing two underground stations and excavating over 2 miles (3 kms) of tunnel beneath downtown Jerusalem and under the politically sensitive Old City. The project would extend Jerusalem’s soon-to-open high-speed rail line from Tel Aviv to the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray.

The route will run close to — but not directly under — the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where tradition holds that Jesus was crucified and buried, and a contested holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

Previous excavations by Israel near the holy site — the spiritual epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — have sparked violent Palestinian protests. Because of those sensitivities, the proposal will likely meet with heavy resistance from the Palestinians, neighboring Arab countries and the international community. Katz, a senior Cabinet official who also serves as Israel’s intelligence minister, is a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and is seen by many as his likely eventual successor as head of the Likud party.

Transportation Ministry spokesman Avner Ovadia said Wednesday the project is estimated to cost more than $700 million and, if approved, would take four years to complete. Katz’s office said the minister advanced the plan in a recent meeting with Israel Railways executives, and has fast-tracked it in the planning committees. Katz said a high-speed rail station would allow visitors to reach “the beating heart of the Jewish people — the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.” He proposed naming the station after Trump “for his brave and historic decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital” earlier this month. Trump’s announcement has enraged the Palestinians and much of the Muslim world. The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution last week condemning the move, with several traditional American allies breaking with Washington to vote in favor of the motion.

Israel captured east Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, in 1967, and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, and a longstanding international consensus holds that the fate of the city should be decided through direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Digging railway tunnels to the Western Wall would also entail excavating in Jerusalem’s Old City, where religious and political sensitivities — as well as layers of archaeological remains from the city’s 3,000-year history — could make for a logistical and legal quagmire. Last year an initiative to convert an already excavated area abutting the Western Wall into an egalitarian Jewish prayer section was hotly contested by Israeli archaeologists, who said such a move would cause irreparable damage to the historic remains of the ancient city.

Despite the likely opposition to the project, Ovadia said he expects the plans to be approved in the coming year, barring major complications. The Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highspeed line is expected to open next spring. “There’s no reason why this train won’t be built,” he said. “We already know how to deal with no less difficult opposition.” Katz has previously proposed other ambitious infrastructure projects, including an artificial island off the coast of the Gaza Strip that would serve as an air and seaport for the Palestinian territory, and a railway connecting Israel with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states.

President Jimmy Morales’ top diplomat defended his decision to move Guatemala’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, rejecting on Tuesday international and domestic criticism after he followed Washington’s lead in announcing a switch. Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel said the change amounts to “a foreign policy decision, therefore sovereign,” and there is no intention to reverse it. “What we are doing is being coherent with our foreign policy and the ally we have been for Israel,” she said Morales announced the change Christmas Eve, becoming the first to follow US President Donald Trump on switching from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians claim the city’s eastern sector, which was captured by Israel in 1967 and is home to sensitive Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious sites.

Many governments have long said the fate of Jerusalem must be resolved through negotiations. Israel welcomed Guatemala’s announcement, while Palestinian authorities criticized it. Guatemala’s government has given no timeline for a move, and Trump has also not said when a US switch might be made. Jovel played down a possible fallout for Guatemala’s cardamom trade, for which Arab and Islamic nations are the largest buyers. She noted it represents just 0.37 percent of the country’s GDP. “It is not an issue that should really worry us too much,” Jovel said. Guatemala and Israel have long had close ties, especially in security matters and Israeli arms sales to the Central American nation.

Trump’s announcement Dec 6 upended decades of US policy and set off weeks of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces that have left at least a dozen Palestinians dead. The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly Thursday to condemn the US decision in a nonbinding resolution. Guatemala was one of nine nations that sided with the United States.

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