BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Reuters) – A small group of Palestinian protesters on Sunday set fire to placards printed with images of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Middle East negotiator Jason Greenblatt outside Jesus’s traditional birthplace, days before their arrival in the region.
With Bethlehem’s illuminated Christmas tree behind them, about 30 people stood quietly holding candles at Manger Square next to the Church of the Nativity, the site Christians believe marks Jesus’s birthplace, before setting the placards alight.
“Bethlehem welcomes the messengers of peace, not the messengers of war”, read some placards with pictures of Pence and Greenblatt as they went up in flames.
The U.S. vice president is due in the region later this week but the Palestinians have said he is not welcome and President Mahmoud Abbas will not meet him during his visit, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki said last week, a move the White House described as “unfortunate”.
Greenblatt, who has held several rounds of discussions with Israeli and Palestinian officials during the past few months in an effort to restart peace talks that have been frozen since 2014, is also due to arrive this week.
Violent protests have been held almost daily in the Palestinian territories over U.S. President Donald Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement in which he overturned long-standing U.S. policy on Jerusalem and said he was recognising it as Israel’s capital.
Palestinian militants have also increased the firing of rockets at Israel since Trump’s announcement and two were launched on Sunday. One landed in an Israeli community close to the Gaza border and damaged property but no casualties were reported initially, a police spokesman said.
Most countries consider East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after capturing it in a 1967 war, to be occupied territory and say the status of the city should be decided at future Israeli-Palestinian talks.
Israel has welcomed Trump’s announcement as recognising political reality and biblical Jewish roots in Jerusalem. It says that all of Jerusalem — a city holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians — is its capital, while Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state.
(Reporting by Ma’amoun Wazwaz, Writing by Ori Lewis; editing by Ralph Boulton)