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US plans to reopen Jerusalem consulate

OCCUPIED WEST BANK, Palestine:  US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has announced that the United States would reopen its consulate general in Jerusalem – a move that restores ties with Palestinians, which had been downgraded by the Trump administration.

The consulate long served as an autonomous office in charge of diplomatic relations with the Palestinians. But former President Donald Trump downgraded its operations and placed them under the authority of his ambassador to Israel when he moved the embassy to Jerusalem.

Those moves broke with longstanding US policy and infuriated Palestinians, who seek East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

Blinken did not give a precise date for reopening the consulate but said it would be “an important way for our country to engage with and provide support to the Palestinian people”.

Blinken announced the step after a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank.

“As I told the president, I’m here to underscore the commitment of the United States to rebuilding the relationship with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, a relationship built on mutual respect and also a shared conviction that Palestinians and Israelis alike deserve equal measures of security, freedom, opportunity and dignity,” he said.

Speaking alongside Blinken, Abbas thanked the US “for its commitment to the two-state solution (and maintaining) the status quo on the Haram al-Sharif,” a Jerusalem compound holy to Muslims and Jews that contains Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site.

During a regular news briefing on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the move was a “natural step” in rebuilding the US’s relationship with Palestinians, which suffered under the Trump administration.

“[I]n our view, this is the next natural step to announce plans to reopen the consulate, and again, we also announced our commitment to contributing to the funds to rebuild Gaza, so these are all part of our efforts to rebuild that relationship,” Psaki said.

Blinken is in the region to help shore up the ceasefire last week that ended a devastating 11-day war between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers that killed at least 253 Palestinians and 12 Israelis, and caused widespread destruction in the coastal territory.

The war was triggered following crackdowns by Israeli police on Palestinians in Jerusalem in and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a site that has seen several outbreaks of Israeli-Palestinian violence over the years.