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Australia warns citizens ahead of expected Jerusalem move

  • Andrew Beatty

    Agence France-Presse

Sydney, Australia   /   Fri, December 14, 2018   /   09:22 am
Australia warns citizens ahead of expected Jerusalem move Indonesians march with a banner as they attend a protest against US President Donald Trump's recent decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel, outside the US embassy in Jakarta on December 17, 2017. Thousands attended the rally organised by the country's top Islamic authority, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), backed by the government as well as several other Islamic organisations. (Agence France -Presse/Adek Berry)

Australia on Friday warned citizens to take care while travelling in neighbouring Muslim-majority Indonesia, ahead of an expected but contentious move to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to announce -- as soon as Saturday -- that his government will follow US President Donald Trump's lead and recognise the contested city as Israel's capital.

Scores of Australians preparing to jet off to Bali and other tropical island destinations for upcoming summer holidays should "exercise a high degree of caution", the Department of Foreign Affairs warned.

Officials in Canberra told AFP they expected the announcement to come on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, but cautioned that events could yet alter those plans.

Both Israel and the Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital. Critics say declaring Jerusalem the capital of either inflames tensions and prejudges the outcome of final status peace talks.

Trump's decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv last May prompted tens of thousands of Palestinians to approach the heavily-protected Israeli border fence amid often violent demonstrations.

At least 62 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire on the day of the US embassy move.

Morrison is expected to stop short of actually shifting Australia's diplomatic corps to the Holy City, amid fears about the cost and security implications.

But recognising Jerusalem would help the embattled Australian PM -- who faces the prospect of an election drubbing next year -- with Jewish and conservative Christian voters and win him friends in the White House.

His supporters argue Israel has the right to choose its own capital and peace talks are dead in the water, so there is no peace to prejudge.

But the move still risks heightening unrest, not least in Australia's immediate neighbour and the world's most populous Muslim nation.

- Jakarta protests -

Indonesia's government, facing domestic pressure at home, had reacted angrily earlier this year, when Morrison floated the idea of both recognising Jerusalem and moving the Australian embassy there.

The issue has put the conclusion of a bilateral trade agreement on hold.

In the meantime, Australia's foreign ministry has moved to prepare the ground.

"Demonstrations have been held in recent weeks around the Australian Embassy in Jakarta and the Australian Consulate-General in Surabaya," it warned in a public notice Friday.

"Protests may continue at the Embassy in Jakarta or at any of Australia's Consulates-General in Surabaya, Bali and Makassar," the Department of Foreign Affairs said."Exercise a high degree of caution."

Tensions are currently running high between Israel and the Palestinians.

At least 235 Palestinians and two Israelis have died during violence in Gaza since March, mostly in border clashes.

On Thursday the Israeli army launched raids into the Palestinian city of Ramallah after a Palestinian shot dead two Israeli soldiers at a bus stop in the occupied West Bank.

Netanyahu vowed to 'legalise' thousands of settlements homes considered unlawfully-built even by Israel.

In total six people were killed in the most violent 24 hours to hit the West Bank and Jerusalem in months.