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Monday
May222017

'Everyone was just screaming': Witnesses describe chaos after reported explosion at Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England

Dave Thompson/Getty Images(MANCHESTER, England) -- Ivo Delgado Rivero was trying to flee the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, after hearing a loud bang, when he ran into a smoky main corridor and saw people covered in blood.

"I opened the door on the main corridor, it was full of smoke," Rivero told ABC News. "It was one guy that was in the middle of the corridor laying down, head down and a guy asked me for help and I realized that he got he had an injury in the head ... the face covered in blood."

Rivero said he had been watching the concert near the front of the stage in the back left of the Manchester Arena when he heard what sounded like an explosion come from outside. At first, he said he thought it might have been a technical issue with the concert.

"It was a lot of screaming and a lot of people calling out names and it’s when we realized that maybe it was something bigger than what we thought at the beginning," he said.

Another concertgoer, Abby Barker, told ABC News she was just getting ready to leave the concert when she heard the bang and the arena dissolved into panic.

Barker told ABC News that the "Dangerous Woman" singer had just left the stage, the music had cut off and the lights were on, when the reported bang happened.

"Everyone over there started running in different directions, screaming," Barker said. "We all started panicking too and ran out the doors and ran down the stairs out of the arena. We got outside and children were crying their eyes out, people talking about it being a bomb, gunshots, there were many parents running towards the arena but no one knew exactly what it was.”

Greater Manchester Police said that 19 people are dead and around 50 others are injured. In a statement, police said they were called to the arena at just before 10:35 p.m. local time on Monday. At the moment, the incident is being treated as a "terrorist incident until police know otherwise."

 

 

Eyewitness Karen Ford told the BBC that the "huge sound ... sounded like an explosion went off."

"Everyone just stopped and turned around, and then somebody shouted 'it’s a bomb' and everyone just started running," she continued. "Everybody was trying to push people up the stairs. There was a lot of children there without parents. There was no one to calm them down so everyone was just screaming, crying and pushing."

Concertgoers said people tried to help each other as they were running from the building.

"Everyone was trying really to protect the kids," Rivero said. "While we were going out just outside there was a massive staircase, it was a woman in a wheelchair stuck there ... and it was a lot of stairs so we tried to help her."

Emergency personnel treated some of the injured at Manchester Victoria railway station near the arena.

Andy Holey, another eyewitness, told the BBC that he was waiting outside the concert and was blown over by the force of what he described as an "explosion." When he awoke, he said he saw many casualties around him. He added that it was unclear if they were injured or dead.

Manchester Arena sent out a tweet after the incident, saying the reported explosion happened outside the concert venue.

 

 

Reps for Grande confirmed that she was not harmed.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement that they "are working to establish the full details of what is being treated by the police as an appalling terrorist attack."

"All our thoughts are with the victims and the families of those who have been affected," she added.

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Monday
May222017

Turkish businessman who hired Flynn says neither of them worked for Turkish government

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The Turkish businessman who hired Gen. Michael Flynn during the closing months of the 2016 presidential election refused to say whether he had been questioned or received a subpoena in connection with the ongoing investigation into the dealings of Trump associates during the campaign.

“I cannot comment on that,” Ekim Alptekin told ABC News in an interview on Monday.

Alptekin, who was in Washington, D.C. attending a Turkish-American business conference at the Trump International Hotel, founded a Dutch-based company called Inovo that paid the Flynn Intel Group more than $500,000 during the presidential campaign, according to papers Flynn filed with the Department of Justice.

Flynn had previously registered as a lobbyist for the firm, but Flynn’s attorneys advised that he file additional documents with the Justice Department identifying himself as an agent for a foreign government. The attorneys believed the work could be construed as principally benefitting the Turkish government, a finding that would trigger the need for registration.

"Because of the subject matter of Flynn Intel Group's work for Inovo BV, which focused on Mr. Fethullah Gulen, whose extradition is sought by the Government of Turkey, the engagement could be construed to have principally benefitted the Republic of Turkey," wrote a lawyer for the Flynn Intel Group in a letter to the Department of Justice. "To eliminate any potential doubt, the Flynn Intel Group therefore is electing to file a registration under FARA, in lieu of its prior LDA registration."

Alptekin disputed that assessment.

“I’ve never represented the government of Turkey,” he said. “All of the reports that implicated or imply that I was in any way representing the government are simply not true.”

Gulen is a Turkish cleric who lives in Pennsylvania who has been blamed by the Turkish government for orchestrating a failed military coup in July. In November, The Hill published an op-ed written by Flynn comparing Gulen to Osama bin Laden and urging the U.S. to “adjust our foreign policy to recognize Turkey as a priority.”

“The forces of radical Islam derive their ideology from radical clerics like Gülen, who is running a scam,” Flynn wrote. “We should not provide him safe haven. In this crisis, it is imperative that we remember who our real friends are.”

Flynn has long been a controversial figure. He served in the Obama administration but left government service in 2014 after being reportedly forced out of his position as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Flynn later took a prominent role in the Trump campaign, paving the way to his appointment as Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser.

He was forced to resign, however, shortly after the inauguration, after the administration learned he misled Vice President Mike Pence about private discussions he had with the Russian ambassador. At the same time, Flynn’s private work for and speech fees from foreign sources also began attracting scrutiny.

Alptekin said in an interview that it was unnerving to see his name and that of his company surface in connection with the unfolding scandal.

“I think unfortunately there's a highly politicized situation in the United States in which a lot of facts are being distorted — there's a lot of misunderstanding and misperceptions,” Alptekin said. “I don't think this is a very healthy environment unfortunately. I hope the United States will overcome this period as soon as possible so we can all move forward.”

Earlier this month, sources told ABC News that associates of Flynn Intel Group received grand jury subpoenas in recent weeks, stemming from the FBI investigation being led out of the U.S. Attorney’s Office at the Eastern District of Virginia. Those associates have not been identified publicly.

Flynn, meanwhile, has refused to honor a Senate committee's subpoena request for documents relating to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

"He will not be producing the documents they sought,” a source close to Flynn told ABC News. “He is entitled to decline, pursuant to the Fifth Amendment.”

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Monday
May222017

Saudi Arabia and UAE pledge $100M to women's fund Ivanka Trump supports 

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have pledged to give a total of $100 million to the Women's Empowerment Fund, which Ivanka Trump has publicly supported.

The announcement came at an event that Trump attended while visiting Saudi Arabia as part of the first foreign trip of her father's presidency.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim was the one to announce the donation, saying that the two countries had pledged a combined $100 million donation to the World Bank-based fund.

He added that because of that pledge, as well as additional pledges from the U.S. and other countries, they are expecting to have accumulated $1 billion for the fund by the G-20 summit in July.

"This is really a stunning achievement. I’ve never seen anything come together so quickly, and I really have to say that Ivanka’s leadership has been tremendous," Kim said, according to the pool report from the event in Saudi Arabia on Sunday.

The fund is intended to provide capital for small and medium sized women entrepreneurs.

ABC News has reached out to the White House for further information about the fund and will update accordingly.

Kim first announced the creation of the fund on April 26, 2017, releasing a statement applauding the support of Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"The World Bank Group is working with partners on the details around creating a facility for women’s economic empowerment, specifically through providing access to finance, markets and networks," the statement reads. "Typically, the governance of facilities we manage is decided among donors, and the secretariat sits within and is administered by the World Bank Group. We are very grateful for the leadership Ms. Trump and Chancellor Merkel have demonstrated on this important issue."

While specific details about the fund have not been released publicly, Trump's connection to the fund has already prompted questions from at least one senator.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, sent a letter to the director of the Office of Government Ethics on April 28 urging them to review potential conflicts that come from both Trump's involvement with the fund and her decision not to divest from her businesses.

"I am concerned that Ms. Trump’s refusal to divest from her business interests, and her creation of a fund to solicit foreign money, provides foreign governments an opportunity to improperly influence United States trade and foreign policy," Wyden wrote in the letter.

During the presidential election, Donald Trump was a frequent critic of the Clinton Foundation for accepting donations from Saudi Arabia and other countries with bad human rights records.

"Saudi Arabia and many of the countries that gave vast amounts of money to the Clinton Foundation want women as slaves and to kill gays. Hillary must return all money from such countries!" Trump wrote in a Facebook post on June 13, 2016.

He reiterated that sentiment during the first presidential debate as well, saying that countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar "are people that push gays off ... buildings. These are people that kill women and treat women horribly. And yet you take their money ... why don't you give back the money?"

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Monday
May222017

Trump: 'I never mentioned' Israel to Russian officials in Oval Office meeting

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(TEL AVIV, Israel) -- President Donald Trump said on Monday that he "never mentioned" Israel during his controversial Oval Office meeting with Russian officials in which he reportedly disclosed classified information that could have compromised an Israeli intelligence source.

"I never mentioned the word or the name Israel. Never mentioned it during our conversation," Trump said to reporters ahead of his private meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The president was referring to his May 10 meeting at the White House with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov where he reportedly shared intelligence information from Israel about ISIS.

Trump has since defended his disclosure, arguing he has the right to share such information with Russians.

ABC News reported that Trump's sharing of the information jeopardized exposing an Israeli spy who had provided the intelligence involving an active ISIS plot.

Monday in Israel at the president's brief public appearance with Netanyahu prior to their private meeting, Trump said he did not mention Israel in his meeting with the Russians.

"They're all saying I did," the president said. "So, you had another story wrong."

In fact, there were no allegations that Trump mentioned the source of the intelligence to the Russian officials.

Trump's national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who was at the May 10 meeting, said in a press conference last week, "At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.”

In Monday's public appearance of Trump with Netanyahu, the Israeli leader showed no signs he was upset about Trump's disclosure of intelligence.

"The intelligence cooperation is terrific," Netanyahu said.

Trump's meeting with the prime minister is just one highlight of his busy schedule since arriving in Israel around noon local time on Monday on what is the second stop on his first foreign trip as president.

Trump also made history Monday in becoming the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his daughter Ivanka Trump.

Trump's visit to the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, pleased Israeli officials. But in preparations for the planned visit, a junior U.S. official commented to Israelis that the Jewish holy site is "not your territory. It's part of the West Bank" -- a remark that an Israeli official said was "received with shock."

The president, donning a yarmulke, solemnly placed his hand on the Western Wall and, after taking a few moments, left a note behind.

Before arriving at the Western Wall, Trump and the first lady toured the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City -- one of Christianity’s holiest sites, holding the shrine where Jesus is believed to have been entombed. He delivered remarks alongside Rivlin, repeating what he wrote in the Israeli president's guestbook, saying, "I am honored to be in the great state of Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people."

The president and the first lady were greeted upon their arrival to Israel by Netanyahu, his wife, Sarah Netanyahu, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, and his wife, Nehama Rivlin, for a welcome ceremony.

"On my first trip overseas as president, I have come to the sacred and ancient land to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and the state of Israel," Trump said Monday morning on the tarmac of Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.

"We have before us a rare opportunity to bring security and stability and peace to this region and to its people, defeating terrorism and creating a future of harmony, prosperity and peace. But we can only get there working together," he added.

On Tuesday, Trump will have a private meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and participate in a wreath laying at the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem.

Trump will not announce during his visit any move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, according to a senior White House official who cautioned that it's not the right time for such a pronouncement, as the administration is focusing on brokering a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

Moving the embassy had been a campaign promise of Trump's going back to the Republican primary campaign. As early as a March 2016 speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Trump vowed, "We will move the American Embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem."

Most foreign nations' embassies in Israel, including the United States' since 1966, are in Tel Aviv. Any move of the embassy to Jerusalem would likely be viewed as provocative to leaders of the region's Arab nations and to Palestinians, who claim that city as the capital of a future state.

Trump does not expect to convene a joint meeting with Abbas and Netanyahu on this trip, although he hopes that will happen after another round of solo meetings with each of the leaders, the senior White House official said.

"We're not here to force people to do things one way or the other with regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," the official said.

The stop in Israel comes after the president's visit to Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, and will be followed by a trip to the Vatican, where Trump will meet with the pope.


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Monday
May222017

Four climbers, including one American, die on Mount Everest

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Four climbers from four different countries died near the top of Mount Everest this weekend in what was a tragic few days on the world's highest peak.

Roland Yearwood, a 50-year-old American climber, died as a result of altitude sickness, according to Murari Sharma, managing director of Everest Parivar Treks.

Yearwood was a doctor at the Georgiana Medical Center in Alabama, and according to his bio on the center's website, he is married to another local physician and has two daughters enrolled in college.

The bio also mentions Yearwood's desire to climb Everest.

"During his spare time he likes to sail, dive and fly and is in the process of climbing the tallest summit on the 7 continents and is scheduled to climb Everest next spring,” it reads.

The body of an Indian has been found, and climbers from Slovakia and Australia also died while attempting to summit Everest over the weekend.

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Monday
May222017

North Korea says new missile ready for mass production

iStock/Thinkstock(SEOUL, South Korea) -- North Korea confirmed on Monday that it had "successfully" tested a solid-fuel ballistic missile that it claims is capable of reaching Japan and major U.S. military bases, according to state media.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un oversaw the launch from an observation post and ordered it for deployment, according to state-run Korean Central News Agency.

The launch marked the country's second missile test in a little more than a week as the country continues to defy orders for it to reign in its nuclear and missile program.

The test quiets aspirations of peace between North and South Korea. South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it strongly condemns the launch and urged North Korea to immediately stop any actions that violate U.N. Security Council resolutions.

President Donald Trump, currently in the midst of his first foreign trip as president, had no immediate public comment on the test.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the country’s previous missile launch "disappointing" and "disturbing" in an interview on Sunday.

"The ongoing testing is disappointing, it's disturbing, and we ask that they cease that, because until they cease that testing, clearly they have not changed their view," Tillerson in an interview with FOX News Sunday. “But I think we're early into the game of putting pressure on them. And one could also interpret that perhaps they're just acting out now in response to some of this pressure that I believe they're beginning to feel."

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Monday
May222017

What to expect from Trump's trip to Israel

The White House(TEL AVIV, Israel) -- When President Trump lands in Tel Aviv on Monday, he'll arrive with one goal: kick-starting the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. Trump has called this achievement -- one that has proved elusive for every American president -- "the ultimate deal."

"It's ambitious to say the least," tweeted former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, who served under President Obama. "It's important to avoid any small snafu or distraction that can upend the strategic goals, or give the parties an excuse to hold back."

"A heavy lift for even the most experienced, best-managed White House," Shapiro continued. "The degree of difficulty is even higher for this team."

But before getting down to business when he touches down in Tel Aviv, Trump will first have to answer to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for just one of last week's bombshell revelations: Why he passed on highly sensitive intelligence that originated with Israel, to Russian officials.

The intel snafu

"It certainly casts a pall over the president's upcoming visit to Israel," Shapiro said to ABC News. "He'll still be received as the president of the U.S., which in Israel still counts for a lot, and I'm sure he’ll get a friendly reception, but all Israelis and especially Israelis in the security establishment ... now have to ask the question what kind of partner is this president? Is he someone they can count on, even if his intentions are not ill, to not take actions that could be harmful to Israel’s security?"

Israeli intelligence officials have given no public indication of anger over last week's news. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman only reaffirmed the strength of U.S.-Israeli relations.

"The security relationship between Israel & our greatest ally the United States, is deep, significant and unprecedented in volume," he tweeted. "This is how it has been and how it will continue to be."

Israeli Intel Minister Israel Katz underlined his "complete confidence in the American intelligence community." And Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer also stuck to the script, saying in a statement, "Israel has full confidence in our intelligence-sharing relationship with the United States."

"It was certainly a mistake," said Shapiro. But apparently not a fatal one.

"I think they will be very cautious about the information they share, they can't turn off the spigot, they know that the U.S. is their best and sometimes their only partner and they will continue to be that partner," he said. "But they will not put at risk information that is vital to Israel's security, so until their confidence is restored, I expect them to share less and to share it in very, very restricted channels."

Getting both sides to the table

Shapiro has indicated that what Trump wants is a re-launch of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, supported by Sunni Arab states. But for all of Trump's confidence, he's dropped very few hints regarding his approach or his administration’s policy.

"I'm looking at two states and one state, and I like the one both parties like," Trump said at a joint news conference at the White House with Netanyahu in February. "I can live with either one."

But he's refused to delve into the details.

"Throughout my lifetime, I've always heard the toughest deal to make is the deal between Israelis and Palestinians," he said more recently alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. "Let's see if we can prove them wrong."

Trump will meet with both Netanyahu and Abbas this week.

During their February meeting, Netanyahu followed Trump's lead, sticking to sweeping statements and eschewing firm details.

"Let us seize this moment together," Netanyahu said at the White House. "Let us bolster security. Let us seek new avenues of peace."

For his part, Abbas pitched the same platform Palestinians have presented for years.

"Mr. president," Abbas said, "our strategic option, our strategic choice is to bring about peace based on the vision of the two-state -- a Palestinian state with its capital of East Jerusalem that lives in peace and stability with the state of Israel based on the borders of 1967."

The sticking points

The so-called final-status issues remain the largest stumbling blocks to a peace deal. For as long as the two sides have been negotiating issues including borders, territory, security and the status of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements and Palestinian refugees have remained the top issues to be decided upon. The U.S. has maintained that these two matters -- the most important, the thorniest -- must only be decided during direct negotiations between the two parties.

For a president with zero diplomatic experience, this is a potential minefield. As Trump and his team lay the groundwork this week, several issues will likely be on the agenda.

Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem


Trump's visit comes days before the 50th anniversary of Israel's capture of the Old City of Jerusalem during the 1967 Mideast War. And for the last 50 years, the United States has not recognized Israel's sovereignty over the area.

This is why the U.S. Embassy to Israel has been in Tel Aviv since opening its doors some 50 years ago. And also why if an American is born in Jerusalem, their American passport simply lists a birthplace as "Jerusalem," not "Jerusalem, Israel."

As a candidate, Trump promised to move the U.S. Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem -- essentially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. But as president, he's pumped the brakes on this move.

"Right now there are no plans to do anything in that regard," a senior administration official told ABC News last week. "The president said during the campaign that he believes the capital of Israel is where the embassy should be, but because we're having great conversations with everyone right now, we don't think it would be a time to do that so we don't plan to do that on this trip."

Netanyahu has repeatedly voiced support for the move, last week saying it would amend "a historic wrong and by shattering the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem isn't the capital of Israel."

Meanwhile, Chief Palestinian negotiator and Secretary General of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Saeb Erekat said this weekend: "We believe that moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem would mean the end of the peace process." Erekat has previously warned that the move would spark chaos.

For decades, U.S. presidents have waived a U.S. law requiring the embassy be moved to Jerusalem. The waivers expire every six months, and Trump is expected to sign the renewal when it expires on June 1.

Trump and the Western Wall

The flurry of attention surrounding the unchanged, decades-old U.S. policy towards the Western Wall came last week, reportedly with a shouting match when American officials were doing a site survey ahead of Trump's visit.

According to a senior official in Netanyahu's office, the U.S. delegation rejected the Israeli request to have the prime minister accompany Trump on his politically charged visit to the ancient limestone wall in Jerusalem's Old City, claiming it was a "private visit."

According to reports, during the heated conversation, one junior American official told an Israeli official in the prime minister's office that the Western Wall is "not your territory. It's part of the West Bank."

Israeli officials were outraged.

The holy site is the outer wall of the Temple Mount -- as Jews refer to it, a vestige of the holiest site in Judaism.

Muslims refer to the same compound as al-Haram al-Sharif, also home to al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. Jewish worshippers are allowed to visit and pray at the wall, and Muslim worshippers are allowed to visit and pray at the mosque.

It's this tiny piece of land, less than half a square mile, that has has largely thwarted a peace deal for decades.

National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster told reporters Tuesday in regard to Trump’s visit, "He's going to the Western Wall mainly in connection with the theme to connect with three of the world's great religions, and to pay homage to each of these religious sites that he's visiting."

McMaster twice refused to say whether the wall was part of Israel.

"That sounds like a policy decision," he told reporters.

Later that day, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters only that the Western Wall was "clearly in Jerusalem," a fact no one denies, but a question Trump will almost certainly be asked this week.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
May222017

Behind the controversial practice of building Israeli settlements

iStock/Thinkstock(TEL AVIV, Israel) -- President Donald Trump was greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he arrived in Tel Aviv Monday morning, the second stop on Trump's first foreign trip.

"We have before us a rare opportunity to bring security and stability and peace to this region and to its people, defeating terrorism and creating a future of harmony, prosperity and peace. But we can only get there working together,” Trump said on the tarmac of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport upon his arrival.

At the top of the president’s agenda will be laying the groundwork for a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. He will meet with both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, though a senior White House official said the president does not expect to convene a joint meeting between the two leaders on this trip.

One of the biggest sticking points in any deal are Israeli settlements -- communities of Israeli citizens, ethnically Jewish, in the Occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in the Golan Heights.

While the Israeli settlement issue would be just one piece of a two-state solution framework, it is a critical obstacle to peace. Below, ABC News breaks down what you need to know about Israeli settlements:

What are Israeli settlements?

Israeli settlements range from small outposts and villages to cities with tens of thousands of residents.

The territories have been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War -- when Israel, feeling that its security was threatened by its Arab neighbors, captured those areas from Jordan and Syria, respectively, and the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. (The boundary between Israel and the West Bank is often referred to as the 1967 line and is viewed as a possible border between Israel and a future Palestinian state if the parties pursue a two-state solution.)

Originally, Israeli settlements were in all the captured areas, but Israel evacuated the settlements from the Sinai Peninsula in 1979 after a peace agreement with Egypt and from the Gaza Strip in 2005 after a proposal by Israel’s then–Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that was meant to move forward the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

In December, former Secretary of State John Kerry said there were 130 Israeli settlements east of the 1967 line. One hundred thousand settlers have moved into occupied territory since 2009.

Nearly 90,000 settlers live east of the separation barrier, a wall built by Israel because of security concerns during the second intifada starting in 2000.

At the end of 2015, the Israeli Interior Ministry said nearly 400,000 Jews live in the West Bank, including those beyond the separation barrier but not counting those in East Jerusalem. It is estimated that more than 300,000 Jews live in East Jerusalem, which contains some of the holiest sites for Christians, Jews and Muslims. (In comparison, about 2.75 million Palestinians live under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.)

At the end of last year, Israel announced that it would build 5,600 homes in East Jerusalem.

Why do Israeli settlements cause controversy?

Israelis advocate for and defend settlement construction for various historical, religious, political and security reasons.

But the United Nations considers Israeli settlements illegal under international law, in part because they violate several Security Council resolutions.

Israel argues that settlements are legal because the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, which defines humanitarian protections for civilians in war zones and which Israel signed, does not apply to the territories seized in the 1967 war. However, most international institutions -- such as the International Court of Justice and the U.N. Security Council and General Assembly -- say the Fourth Geneva Convention applies to those territories.

In December, the U.S. abstained from a U.N. vote condemning Israeli settlements. (Traditionally, the U.S. has vetoed Security Council resolutions that condemned settlements.)

Kerry had defended the U.S. decision at the time, saying in a speech at the State Department, “The vote in the United Nations was about preserving the two-state solution. That’s what we were standing up for, Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.”

“If more and more settlers are moving into the middle of Palestinian areas, it’s going to be that much harder to separate,” Kerry said. “No one thinking seriously about peace can ignore the reality of what the settlements pose to that peace.”

He called the two-state solution “the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.” In the speech, he reiterated a framework for a resolution that would establish borders between Israel and a sovereign state of Palestine based on 1967 territorial lines.

“It is a policy of permanent settlement construction that risks making peace impossible,” he said.

Kerry rejected that a two-state solution would negatively affect Israeli security, though many Israelis argue that a Palestinian state on its border will prove hostile.

Trump has said that he would veto any resolution aimed at an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians proposed by the Security Council and said the entire U.N. is “not a friend of democracy” and “surely is not a friend to Israel.”

In a tweet before Kerry’s speech, then president-elect Trump told Israel to “stay strong” until his inauguration.

How will the Trump administration view settlements?

The U.S., Israel’s oldest and strongest ally, has traditionally seen the settlements as an impediment to a two-state solution. But Trump’s election left some wondering how the new administration could alter U.S. policy toward Israelis settlements.

In an interview with Israel’s Army Radio, Jason Greenblatt, a co-chairman of the Trump campaign’s Israel advisory committee, said, “It is certainly not Mr. Trump’s view that settlement activities should be condemned and that it is an obstacle for peace, because it is not an obstacle for peace.”

Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is the president of the American Friends of Bet El Institutions, associated with the Jewish settlement of Bet El. Friedman has consistently supported new settlements.

“I think the West Bank was captured from Jordan in a defensive war,” he told ABC News at an October rally for Trump in Israel, referring to the 1967 war. “The Jordanians haven’t sought to repatriate that land, so I think -- I’m a lawyer -- under international law, I don’t think these settlements are illegal.”

He has been pessimistic about the idea of a two-state solution.

But that doesn’t mean a U.S.-brokered agreement is off the table. Trump has called the Israeli-Palestinian solution “the ultimate deal.”

“As a dealmaker, I’d like to do … the deal that can’t be made. And do it for humanity’s sake,” Trump told The Wall Street Journal.

During a February press conference with Netanyahu, President Trump asked the Israeli leader to “hold off on settlements.”

“As far as settlements, I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit,” Trump said. “We’ll work something out. But I would like to see a deal be made. I think a deal will be made. I know that every President would like to.”

“But Bibi and I have known each other a long time -- a smart man, great negotiator,” Trump later added. “And I think we're going to make a deal. It might be a bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand. That's a possibility. So let’s see what we do.”

Netanyahu responded later in that press conference that settlements were “not the core of the conflict,” saying the issue “has to be resolved in the context of peace negotiations.”

“And I think we also are going to speak about it, President Trump and I, so we can arrive at an understanding so we don’t keep on bumping into each other all the time on this issue,” Netanyahu said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
May212017

How Trump's planned visit to the Western Wall spurred controversy

iStock/Thinkstock(JERUSALEM) -- President Trump's plan to become the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Western Wall has been welcomed by Israeli government officials.

Not as pleasing to Israeli leaders, however, were comments by a junior U.S. official in the lead-up to the visit, planned for Monday, that the Western Wall is not in Israeli territory but "is part of the West Bank."

The problem began when American officials were doing a site survey ahead of the president's stop at the holy site.

According to a senior official in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office, the U.S. delegation rejected an Israeli request to have the prime minister accompany Trump on his visit to the Western Wall, claiming it was a "private visit."

Israeli media also asked to have access to cover the visit and were told no, according to Israeli Channel 2.

The conversations got more heated from there, according to published reports, with a junior American official telling an Israeli official in the prime minister's office that the Western Wall is "not your territory. It's part of the West Bank."

President Trump later told the Hebrew daily Israel Hayom, a right-wing media outlet aligned with Netanyahu, that the Western Wall’s rabbi, Shmuel Rabinowitz, would join him on his visit, saying that was “more traditional, but that could change.”

But the remark about the Western Wall’s location outraged Israelis.

“The view that the Western Wall is part of the West Bank was received with shock," the Israeli official said.

The official added, “We are convinced that this view is contrary to the policies of President Trump as can be seen by his strong objection to the last U.N. Security Council resolution," referring to a December resolution that called for an end to Israeli settlements which the Obama administration declined to veto.

But is the remark on the wall's being part of the West Bank contrary to Trump's policies?

The Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City is the outer wall of what Jews call the Temple Mount, a remnant of the holiest site in Judaism.

Muslims refer to the same compound as al-Haram al-Sharif, home to al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. Jewish worshipers are allowed to visit and pray at the wall, and Muslim worshipers are allowed to visit and pray at the mosque. Israeli soldiers patrol and secure the Western Wall, or the Kotel, as Jews refer to it, while access to the al-Aqsa compound above the wall is administered by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf.

Sensitivities over this tiny piece of land, less than half a square mile, tie into questions about the future status of Jerusalem which for decades has been one of the sticking points to any Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Trump's visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank will come days before the 50th anniversary of Israel's capture of the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six Day War in 1967. And in the 50 years since, the United States has not recognized Israel's sovereignty over the area.

This is why the U.S. embassy in Israel has since it opened about 50 years ago been in Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem. And it's why for any American born in Jerusalem, their U.S. passport lists the birthplace simply as "Jerusalem," not "Jerusalem, Israel."

It has been a complex diplomatic balancing act for every U.S. negotiating team in the Middle East as the status of Jerusalem has long been considered the thorniest of so-called "final status" issues that can be decided only in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The Israeli government claims Jerusalem as its "eternal capital," and the Palestinian government claims East Jerusalem as a capital of its future state.

On Monday, Trump's new ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, landed in Tel Aviv and drove straight to the Western Wall to say a blessing in both English and Hebrew.

“We wanted to come straight to the holiest place in the entire Jewish world, the ‘Kotel Hamaaravi,’ the Western Wall, straight from the airport," Friedman said. “I had the opportunity to say some prayers, prayed for of course the health of my family … I prayed for the president and I wished him success, especially on his upcoming trip."

When Prime Minister Netanyahu thanked the ambassador for his symbolic first stop, Friedman replied: "There was no other place else to go."

But back in Washington, White House officials didn't stray from past U.S. policy on the Western Wall.

White House National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster told reporters Tuesday in regard to Trump’s visit, "He's going to the Western Wall mainly in connection with the theme to connect with three of the world's great religions and to pay homage to each of these religious sites that he's visiting."

McMaster twice refused to say whether the wall was part of Israel. "That sounds like a policy decision," he told reporters. Later that day, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters only that the Western Wall was "clearly in Jerusalem," a fact no one denies.

Also on Tuesday, another U.S. official waded into the fray. In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley said: "I don’t know what the policy of the administration is, but I believe the Western Wall is part of Israel and I think that that is how we’ve always seen it and that’s how we should pursue it … We’ve always thought the Western Wall was part of Israel.”

In fact, the U.S. has never officially recognized the Western Wall as part of Israel. But complicating the issue for the Trump administration is the president's promise during the campaign to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which would be a de facto recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

A senior administration official told ABC News this week that the president will not make any announcement during his trip about any possible move of the embassy.

“Right now there are no plans to do anything in that regard,” the official said. “The president said during the campaign that he believes the capital of Israel is where the embassy should be, but because we’re having great conversations with everyone right now we don’t think it would be a time to do that so we don’t plan to do that on this trip."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
May212017

Trump calls on Middle Eastern nations to ‘drive out’ extremists in first major speech abroad

Mandel Ngan/Getty Images(RIYADH, Saudi Arabia) -- In his first high-stakes speech abroad on Sunday, President Donald Trump called on Middle Eastern nations to “drive out” extremists.

“The nations of the Middle East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their country and, frankly, for their families and for their children,” Trump said to a room of leaders from more than 50 Muslim countries.

“It's a choice between two futures, and it is a choice America cannot make for you. A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and drive out the extremists. Drive them out. Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land. And drive them out of this Earth,” he said.

Trump’s speech, delivered at the Arab Islamic American Summit in Ridyadh, Saudi Arabia, before the room of leaders, had a starkly more measured tone on Islam than his harsh rhetoric during the campaign -- when he called for the “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” and said that he thinks “Islam hates us.”

Trump addressed “the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires.”

“This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations. This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it,” Trump said. “This is a battle between good and evil.”

He called on Middle Eastern countries to join the U.S. in the fight against radical groups like ISIS.

“But we can only overcome this evil if the forces of good are united and strong – and if everyone in this room does their fair share and fulfills their part of the burden. Terrorism has spread across the world. But the path to peace begins right here, on this ancient soil, in this sacred land,” Trump said.

“America is prepared to stand with you – in pursuit of shared interests and common security. But the nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them. The nations of the Middle East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their countries, and for their children.”

Rather than painting Islam as an apparent enemy of the U.S., as Trump did during the presidential campaign, he depicted the Muslim world as an important partner in combating terrorism.

He noted that terrorism has taken the lives of innocent people in every corner of the world, but Middle Eastern countries “have borne the brunt of the killings and the worst of the destruction in this wave of fanatical violence.”

Trump's trip to the Middle East is a chance to "start a new chapter in the history of the region," a senior administration official told ABC News.

Trump used the phrase “the crisis of Islamist extremism,” rather than "radical Islamic terrorism," a term that has been a hallmark of his rhetoric at domestic events and has faced criticism for being an inflammatory phrase abroad.

“We are not here to lecture,” Trump said. “We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership -- based on shared interests and values -- to pursue a better future for us all.”

"Every time a terrorist murders an innocent person, and falsely invokes the name of God, it should be an insult to every person of faith.”

Trump called on religious leaders to take the lead to confronting extremism.

“Religious leaders must make this absolutely clear: Barbarism will deliver you no glory – piety to evil will bring you no dignity. If you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief, and your soul will be condemned.”

The president worked on the speech during the 12-hour flight on Air Force One from Washington, D.C., to Riyadh with White House advisors including Stephen Miller, who played a key part in writing the president’s travel ban, which is now tied up in courts.

Trump's speech about the fight against extremism comes on the second day of his first trip abroad as president. He met with leaders in Saudi Arabia on Saturday and signed a new $110 billion arms agreement between the two nations.

"That was a tremendous day," Trump told reporters. "Tremendous investments into the United States, and our military community is very happy."

The president will also visit Israel and the Vatican during the trip which is taking place as controversies swirl in the U.S. around the investigation into potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials in the 2016 election, which could take attention away from the overseas diplomatic initiative.

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