RAMALLAH -  A delegation of US diplomats had to cut short an event in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem on Tuesday, an attendee said, after protesters stormed their meeting.

The angry protesters, who were objecting to US President Donald Trump’s controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, also threw tomatoes at the delegation’s car as they left, a video posted online showed.

Samir Hazboun, head of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce, said they had been holding a training session for local businesspeople about digital commerce with an American expert and a delegation from the US consulate in Jerusalem.

“We were surprised when a number of angry protesters held an extraordinary protest, which forced us to end the course and for the American trainer to leave immediately with the American consulate delegation,” he told AFP.

The video online showed a handful of protesters entering the room and chanting while holding signs opposing Trump’s decision. One sign read “Zionism = Nazism = Fascism”.

The American delegation quickly packed up and left, with the protesters throwing what appeared to be tomatoes at their cars, while one man kicked a car.

Trump’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital set off protests among Palestinians, who consider the city to be their capital as well.

The Palestinian leadership has frozen ties with the US administration, and Trump has withheld tens of millions of dollars in aid.

UNRWA chief slams ‘political dimension’ of US aid cut

The head of the UN agency for Palestinians criticised Tuesday the “political dimension” of a US decision to dramatically slash funding to the organisation, warning this could lead to rising instability.

Pierre Krahenbuhl said the US decision to reduce funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) this year by $300 million (240 million euros) “has a political dimension that I think should be avoided”.

He made these comments while issuing an emergency appeal for more than $800 million in funds to provide additional assistance to Palestinian refugees in Syria, Gaza and the West Bank.

The United States, which for years has by far been UNRWA’s largest donor, announced this month it will be contributing just $60 million to the organisation’s 2018 budget, down from $360 million last year.

“It is very clear the decision by US was not related to our performance,” Krahenbuhl said, pointing out that he had a “positive” meeting with US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner last November and had been left with the impression Washington would maintain its funding levels.

Krahenbuhl said the cuts were clearly linked to the Palestinian leadership’s decision this month to freeze ties with Trump’s administration after its controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, adding that Washington could no longer be the main mediator in talks with Israel.

The Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

Krahenbuhl stressed the “imperative to preserve and ensure that humanitarian funding is preserved from politicisation”.

“The whole point of supporting communities in very difficult conflict environments is that one doesn’t have to agree with anyone’s leadership. One is concerned with the well-being ... of communities.”

He underlined that UNRWA provides essential services to some 5.3 million Palestinian refugees across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including running 700 schools and 140 health clinics.

“It is not the first time in our long and proud history that we face challenges of this nature, but it is in financial terms the most serious financial crisis ever in the history of this agency,” he said.

Cuts to these and other services for populations often already in dire need and lacking any possibilities to move or to improve their situations could be a recipe for disaster, he warned.

Palestinian, Israeli ministers meet

Senior Palestinian and Israeli officials met at a ceremony Tuesday in the first high-level encounter since US President Donald Trump’s controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Palestinian economy minister Abeer Odeh and Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon attended the inauguration of a new cargo scanner at the Israeli-controlled Allenby Bridge border crossing between Jordan and the West Bank.

The new device will enable 200 containers to cross between Jordan and the Palestinian territory a day instead of the current 100, Israel’s tax authority said in a statement.

Other senior Israeli and Palestinian officials were at the event, as well as a Jordanian representative and Dutch diplomats, whose country donated the new machine.

“I reached the finance ministry after a long period of stagnation in the relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” Kahlon said in remarks relayed by the tax authority. “We’ve decided to take responsibility and advance a number of joint projects.”

“We have many plans to continue our financial cooperation with the (Palestinian) Authority,” Kahlon said at the ceremony.

Kahlon noted that he will be meeting with Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah in Jerusalem on Sunday as part of their efforts to advance “a number of joint projects.”

Hamdallah and Kahlon meet regularly to discuss economic and infrastructure issues. Their last talks took place on October 30.

Their Sunday meeting will be the first since Trump pledged on December 6 to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, breaking with the policies of his predecessors.

Outraged Palestinian leaders said the US could no longer play the role of peace broker and called for the suspension of their recognition of Israel, a move that has not been implemented.

The United States meanwhile withheld $65 million of funds earmarked for the UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

Palestinian officials did not confirm the Israeli report on the meeting.

Hamdallah is heading for Brussels for an “emergency” meeting Wednesday of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which coordinates international donor support for the Palestinians. The Palestinian premier will raise the issue of the financial crisis facing his government and seek funding for Gaza, a government statement said.