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Palestinians stage strike to protest Pence visit

Shops, businesses and restaurants across the occupied West Bank were closed
US Vice President Mike Pence touches the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City (Reuters)

EAST JERUSALEM, West Bank - Palestinian factions in the occupied territories called for a general strike on Tuesday to protest the visit of US Vice President Mike Pence.

In a statement, the parties called on Palestinians to take part in demonstrations throughout the West Bank in response to the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital and to move its embassy from Tel Aviv there as early as next year.

Shops, businesses and restaurants across the occupied West Bank were closed and normally busy thoroughfares were eerily empty.

Israeli forces were heavily present around Jerusalem while main roads leading to the Old City were blocked, as Pence made a visit to the Western Wall.

Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers cracked down on Palestinian protesters across the West Bank as shop owners closed for business and schools and universities also adhered to the strike. 

Maliha Maslimani, a Palestinian activist and artist, told Middle East Eye: "The general strike is an important tool of resistance. We are taking part today to protest Pence's visit to Palestine.

"We want to tell him that he is not welcome in the land where thousands of Palestinians have been evicted, killed and abused by the Israeli government.

"The peace plan that the Americans offer is fake and gives legitimacy to Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands," Maslimani added.

Pence began a visit to Israel on Sunday after being praised as a "great friend" by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and shunned by the Palestinians over US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The evangelical Christian's speech to the Israeli parliament on Monday, which was laden with biblical references, was praised by right-wing Israelis, but Palestinians saw it as confirming some of their worst fears.

Sahar Abbasi, an activist from Silwan, south of the Old City of Jerusalem, told MEE: "Listening to Pence's speech left us speechless. He completely ignored the fact that we exist as a people." 

Abbasi also called on the Palestinian Authority (PA), which has refused to meet with Pence, to stand its ground. 

"We hope that the PA continues to boycott the American government and not to meet with them. This is what the Palestinian people want and we hope that the PA can respect that."

In his speech, Pence reaffirmed US President Donald Trump's 6 December declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and pledged to move the embassy to the city by the end of 2019.

"The friendship between our peoples has never been deeper," he said.

On Tuesday, as he wrapped up his trip, Pence, who was boycotted by the Palestinians, visited one of the holiest sites in Judaism, the Western Wall.

The site lies in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as the capital of their future state, and many Israelis were likely to interpret it as Pence further backing their claim over the entire city.

"Very inspiring," Pence said after the visit during which he was not accompanied by Israeli government officials.

Abu Ahmed, who works at a souvenir shop in the Old City, told MEE: "This [strike] is the least we can do to deliver our message to the American government and the American people regarding the issue of Jerusalem."