Palestinian protesters set fire to placards of US vice president in Bethlehem

BETHLEHEM, West Bank, Dec 17 (Reuters) - A small group of Palestinian protesters on Sunday set fire to placards printed with images of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Middle East negotiator Jason Greenblatt outside Jesus's traditional birthplace, days before their arrival in the region.

With Bethlehem's illuminated Christmas tree behind them, about 30 people stood quietly holding candles at Manger Square next to the Church of the Nativity, the site Christians believe marks Jesus's birthplace, before setting the placards alight.

"Bethlehem welcomes the messengers of peace, not the messengers of war," read some placards with pictures of Pence and Greenblatt as they went up in flames.

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The U.S. vice president is due in the region later this week but the Palestinians have said he is not welcome and President Mahmoud Abbas will not meet him during his visit, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki said last week, a move the White House described as "unfortunate."

Greenblatt, who has held several rounds of discussions with Israeli and Palestinian officials during the past few months in an effort to restart peace talks that have been frozen since 2014, is also due to arrive this week.

Violent protests have been held almost daily in the Palestinian territories over U.S. President Donald Trump's Dec. 6 announcement in which he overturned long-standing U.S. policy on Jerusalem and said he was recognizing it as Israel's capital.

Palestinian militants have also increased the firing of rockets at Israel since Trump's announcement and two were launched on Sunday. One landed in an Israeli community close to the Gaza border and damaged property but no casualties were reported initially, a police spokesman said.

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U.S. Vice President Mike Pence listens to Panama's President Juan Carlos Varela while delivering a joint message at the Presidential Palace in Panama City, Panama, August 17, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Lemos
Panama's President Juan Carlos Varela (L) and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence deliver a joint message at the Presidential Palace in Panama City, Panama, August 17, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Lemos
Panama's deputy Foreign Minister Luis Hincapie (R) talks to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence upon his arrival to the Tocumen international airport in Panama City, Panama, August 17, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Lemos
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (R) shakes hands with Panama's President Juan Carlos Varela after delivering a joint message at the Presidential Palace in Panama City, Panama, August 17, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Lemos
Chile's President Michelle Bachelet and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence meet at the government house in Santiago, Chile August 16, 2017.REUTERS/Esteban Felix/Pool
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence arrives to meet with Chile's President Michelle Bachelet (not pictured) at the government house in Santiago, Chile August 16, 2017. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen arrive at the International Airport of Santiago, Chile August 16, 2017. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido
Argentina's Vice President Gabriela Michetti and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence shake hands at the Eva Peron hall inside The Casa Rosada Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires, Argentina August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
A man holds a sign that reads "Pence, get out - Trump, get out" during a protest outside the U.S. Embassy against the visit by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in Buenos Aires, Argentina August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks next to Argentina's President Mauricio Macri during a news conference at the Olivos Presidential Residence in Buenos Aires, Argentina August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
Argentina's President Mauricio Macri and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence shake hands at the Olivos Presidential Residence in Buenos Aires, Argentina August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos greets U.S. Vice President Mike Pence after his arrival in Cartagena, Colombia August 13, 2017. Colombian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
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Most countries consider East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after capturing it in a 1967 war, to be occupied territory and say the status of the city should be decided at future Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Israel has welcomed Trump's announcement as recognizing political reality and biblical Jewish roots in Jerusalem. It says that all of Jerusalem -- a city holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians -- is its capital, while Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state.

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