Middle East

Palestinians rally against Israeli annexation as West Bank goes on Covid-19 lockdown

Thousands of Palestinians protested in Gaza on Wednesday against Israel's plans to annex parts of the West Bank, where Palestinian authorities announced a new five-day lockdown amid a worrying resurgence of the coronavirus.

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Israel's centre-right coalition government had set July 1 as the date from which it could begin implementing US President Donald Trump's Middle East peace proposal.

While no major announcement was expected on the kick-off date, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said talks with US officials "were continuing on the application of sovereignty".

Netanyahu was also discussing annexation with his security chiefs, it added, noting that "further discussions will be held in the coming days".

In Gaza City, several thousand protesters gathered, some brandishing Palestinian flags and placards condemning Trump at a rally.

"The resistance must be revived," Gaza protester Rafeeq Inaiah told AFP. "Israel is afraid of force."

Smaller demonstrations were held in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Jericho, attended by a handful of left-wing Israeli politicians opposed to annexation.

"We want to affirm our support for peace," former Labour party official Ophir Pines-Paz told AFP.

The Trump plan, unveiled in January, offered a path for Israel to annex territory and Jewish West Bank settlements, communities considered illegal under international law.

Netanyahu supports the Trump plan – which has been roundly rejected by the Palestinians – but the right-wing premier has not laid out his intentions for enacting the US proposals.

Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, fired some 20 rockets from the coastal Palestinian enclave into the Mediterranean Sea on Wednesday, a move aimed at dissuading Israel from moving forward, Hamas sources told AFP.

Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, says that Israeli annexations in the West Bank, which borders Jordan, would be a "declaration of war".

Growing global opposition

France's foreign minister said on Wednesday that any Israeli annexation in the occupied West Bank would be in violation of international law and would have consequences.

"Annexation of Palestinian territories, whatever the perimeters, would seriously throw into question the parameters to resolve the conflict," Jean-Yves Le Drian told a parliamentary hearing.

"An annexation decision could not be left without consequences and we are examining different options at a national level and also in coordination with our main European partners," he added.

Writing in Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper on Wednesday, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that although he was a "passionate defender of Israel", he viewed annexation as "contrary to Israel's own long-term interests."

"Annexation would represent a violation of international law," he said.

Australia, in a rare criticism of Israel, warned against "unilateral annexation or change in status of territory on the West Bank".

Most European states and the United Nations oppose annexation, as do Gulf Arab states, with which Israel has increasingly sought warmer ties.

Jordan, one of only two Arab nations that has diplomatic ties with Israel, has warned that annexation could trigger a "massive conflict" and has not ruled out reviewing its 1994 peace treaty with the Jewish state.

Amnesty International's deputy Middle East chief Saleh Hijazi said: "International law is crystal clear on this matter – annexation is unlawful", adding that if IRead More – Source