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Angered by Trump, Palestinians disrupt business seminar U.S. helped organize

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinians protesting against U.S. President Donald Trump’s policy on Jerusalem halted a U.S.-coordinated Palestinian marketing workshop in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday, damaging an American diplomatic vehicle as it sped away.

Protesters threw tomatoes at the sports utility vehicle, which had U.S. consular license plates. They also kicked one of its doors and ripped the plastic casing off a side mirror as it drove off under Palestinian police escort from the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce.

Samir Hazboun, the chamber’s director, told Reuters that a digital marketing workshop, which the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem helped to organize, was under way when about five protesters barged in.

“We hosted an American expert on this issue. Some people who have been trying to express their point of view and protest (against) the American decision regarding Jerusalem and the political situation ... interrupted the workshop and we stopped the workshop,” Hazboun said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s office condemned the attack in a statement saying it “reaffirms its absolute rejection of such behavior, which contradicts Palestinian manners and norms.”

Abbas has called Trump’s Jerusalem declaration a “slap in the face” and said the United States could no longer be an honest broker in peace diplomacy.

Commenting on the incident, State Department spokesperson said: “The United States opposes the use of violence and intimidation to express political views. This non-political program was one part of long-term U.S. engagement to create economic opportunities for Palestinians.”

The U.S.-based lecturer was not a consular staff member and was accompanied by consulate security personnel and some of its Palestinian employees, organizers said. Such incidents against diplomatic staff in Palestinian towns are rare.

Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital overturned decades of U.S. policy that its status should be decided in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

His declaration drew universal condemnation from Arab leaders, stirred Palestinian street protests and drew widespread international criticism.

On a visit to Israel last week, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said that Trump’s promised relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would take place by the end of 2019. Palestinians boycotted Pence’s visit.

Israel’s government regards Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the country, although that is not recognized internationally. Palestinians say East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in a 1967 war, must be the capital of a state they seek in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In the Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem on Saturday, effigies of Trump and Pence were hanged and burned in a protest attended by about 30 Palestinians.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; editing by Mark Heinrich