Fri | Nov 17, 2017

Israel-US spat erupts ahead of Trump visit

Published:Tuesday | May 16, 2017 | 12:00 AM
US Ambassador to Israel David Fried-man kisses the stones of the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray in Jerusalem’s Old City, yesterday.

JERUSALEM (AP):

A diplomatic spat yesterday erupted between United States and Israeli officials just days before a planned visit by US President Donald Trump after an American representative questioned Israel's claim to one of the holiest sites in Judaism.

Israel angrily demanded an explanation from the White House, casting a cloud over the highly anticipated visit by the new president, which is being greeted with a mixture of excitement and nervousness by Israeli officials.

The spat reportedly erupted during preparations for Trump's visit, during which he is planning a stop at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City.

There was no immediate comment from the White House.

The Western Wall is revered as the holiest site where Jews can pray, and according to Channel 2 TV, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked to join Trump. The report said the Americans rebuffed the request, with one official telling the Israelis the site is "not your territory". It said that the comment prompted shouting from the Israeli preparatory team.

Israel captured the Old City, along with the rest of east Jerusalem, in the 1967 Mideast war. It considers the entire city to be its eternal capital, and next week, is set to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of what it calls the unification of Jerusalem.

However, the international community does not recognise Israel's annexation of east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians seek as the capital of a future independent state. The Old City is also home to the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.

The rival claims to east Jerusalem lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and often boil over into violence.

An official in Netanyahu's office said the US comment was "received with astonishment" and that Israel had asked the White House for an explanation.

"We are convinced that this remark is in contradiction to the policy of President Trump," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the media.