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Palestinians angry at reports of early U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem

By Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi

RAMALLAH, West Bank/GAZA (Reuters) - Palestinians reacted on Friday with anger to reports that the United States will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem within months, saying this could destroy the prospect of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Clashes erupted in Gaza and the occupied West Bank earlier on Friday in a weekly protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's stance on Jerusalem, which has also angered Arab political and religious leaders across the region and dismayed European allies.

Palestinians claim East Jerusalem -- seized by Israel in 1967 and later annexed -- as the capital of a future state.

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian's chief negotiator in peace talks that have been frozen since 2014, said the U.S. move showed a "determination to violate international law, destroy the two-state solution and provoke the feelings of the Palestinian people as well as of all Arabs, Muslims and Christians around the globe".

Erekat, who is also secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said: "Trump and his team have disqualified the U.S. from being part of the solution between Israelis and Palestinians; rather, the world now sees that they are part of the problem."

Trump announced in December that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, setting in motion the embassy move and contravening decades of policy by the international community.

A U.S. official told Reuters on Friday that the United States was expected to open its embassy to Israel in Jerusalem in May. This would be shortly after Israel's 70th anniversary.

"This is an unacceptable step. Any unilateral move will not give legitimacy to anyone and will be an obstacle to any effort to create peace in the region," said Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas has rejected U.S.-led Middle East peace efforts as "impossible" since Washington's decision.

Abu Rdainah said the only way to achieve peace, security and stability was Abbas's proposal -- outlined in an address to the United Nations Security Council in New York on Tuesday -- that an international conference should be held to kick-start the peace process, including a "multilateral mechanism" to oversee it.

Abbas is still in the United States after undergoing medical checks in Baltimore on Thursday but will leave on Saturday, Abu Rdaineh said.

In Gaza, a Hamas official, Sami Abu Zuhri, said: "Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem is a declaration of war against the Arab and Muslim nation, and the U.S administration must reconsider its move."

Twenty five Palestinians were wounded by Israeli army gunfire during clashes along the fence with Israel in Gaza on Friday, a Gaza health ministry spokesman. Protesters threw stones at the Israeli troops.

Palestinian health officials said at least 20 Palestinians, most of them in Gaza, have been killed in protests against Trump's decision since the Dec. 6 announcement.

(Reporting by Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi, Writing by Stephen Farrell, Editing by Angus MacSwan)