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‘Stay strong Israel,’ Trump tweets as settlement row flares

Jack Guez, AFP | File photo taken on November 15, 2016 shows a poster in Tel Aviv.

US President-elect Donald Trump tweeted his support for Israel Wednesday ahead of Secretary of State John Kerry's speech on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis against a backdrop of a deepening row over the settlements issue.

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In a series of tweets posted Wednesday, Trump blasted President Barack Obama’s policies on the settlement issue and reiterated his support for Israel.

“We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect. They used to have a great friend in the U.S., but.......,” he tweeted before continuing in another post, “not anymore. The beginning of the end was the horrible Iran deal, and now this (U.N.)! Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”

Trump’s tweets came as an Israeli committee Wednesday approved a four-story building for settlers in an East Jerusalem Palestinian neighbourhood, according to a local NGO.

While the Jerusalem planning committee postponed requests for building permits for nearly 500 homes in East Jerusalem, it did approve the building in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan, according to the Ir Amim NGO which monitors settlement activity.

The moves follow last week's UN Security Council resolution demanding a halt to Israeli settlement building, and with Kerry set to make a major speech on the conflict in Washington at 1600 GMT.

Ir Amim said the request for the building had been put forward by members of Ateret Cohanim, an organisation that pushes for Israeli settlement expansion in East Jerusalem.

Silwan is next to Jerusalem's Old City and is the site of a long campaign by pro-settlement groups to expand the Israeli presence there.

Palestinians have decried the influx of settlers into Silwan, accusing them of seeking to push them out of their own neighbourhood.

US abstention at UN riles Israel

The proposed settlement is part of building activity that the UN Security Council demanded an end to on Friday, a resolution that a US abstention made possible.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested the decision be put off, said Jerusalem Planning and Housing Committee member Hanan Rubin, hours before Kerry’s planned speech laying out his vision for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Rubin said 492 permits for construction of homes for Israelis in the urban settlements of Ramot and Ramat Shlomo, in areas that Israel captured in a 1967 war and annexed to Jerusalem, had been up for approval.

The US on Friday broke with a longstanding approach of diplomatically shielding Israel and abstained on the Security Council resolution, which passed with 14 countries in favour and none against.

Kerry will discuss the abstention when he speaks at the State Department at 11am ET (1600 GMT), a senior State Department official told reporters on Tuesday.

The speech will also address what the official called "misleading" accusations by Israeli officials that the Obama administration drafted and forced the resolution to a vote.

Israel has for decades pursued a policy of building Jewish settlements on occupied territory Palestinians seek for a state.

Most countries view the settlements as an obstacle to peace. Israel disagrees, citing a biblical, historical and political connection to the land, as well as security interests.
Washington considers the settlement activity illegitimate.

Some 570,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem among more than 2.6 million Palestinians.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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