Israeli troops kill at least 58 Palestinians in Gaza protests
Palestinian officials say 1,200 injured, 450 by live fire, as US embassy opens in Jerusalem
Israeli soldiers have shot and killed at least 58 Palestinians and left another 2,700 injured during mass protests along the Gaza border, health officials said.
It was the deadliest day in the region since a devastating 2014 cross-border war, and cast a shadow over the inauguration of the new US embassy in Jerusalem.
Close to 40 of the casualties were critically injured and the dead included a 14-year-old boy, medics said.
The sky along the frontier was blackened with thick smoke as protesters lit tyres. Intermittent sniper fire was heard and crowds of protesters were seen rushing towards the fence.
About 100km away in an affluent neighbourhood of Jerusalem, Washington’s ambassador, David Friedman, stood on a stage painted with the US flag and welcomed a delegation of US and Israeli VIPs, including the president’s daughter, Ivanka.
“Today’s historic event is attributed to the vision, courage, and moral clarity of one person to whom we owe an enormous and eternal debt of gratitude: President Donald J Trump,” Mr Friedman told the crowed to cheers and a standing ovation.
Mr Trump, who had tweeted that Monday was a “great day for Israel”, did not attend but spoke in a video message, saying he extended “a hand in friendship to Israel, the Palestinians and to all of their neighbours. May there be peace.”
Mr Trump’s December declaration on the embassy helped to ignite a six-week protest movement as Palestinians in Gaza gathered near the Israel border, with groups throwing stonesand vandalising perimeter defences.
To international condemnation, Israeli snipers have killed dozens and wounded about 2,000 when firing on demonstrators in past rallies, according to Gaza’s ministry of health. Monday’s shootings raised the total deaths to more than 80.
Residents ignored warnings from the Israeli military that Palestinians risked their lives by taking part. “To the rioters, you are taking part in violent riots that jeopardise your lives,” the army said in leaflets dropped by jets on Monday. “Save yourselves and prioritise building your future.”
Gaza’s Hamas-led government said it would not stop people from attempting to break the metal fence. Loudspeakers at the frontier called for people to push through, although it was not clear if any succeeded.
Hamas has fought three wars with Israel but says it supports peaceful ideals advocated by civilian leaders of the protest movement.
Big day for Israel. Congratulations!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 14, 2018
On Monday, mosques in Gaza called for people to protest as a general strike was observed. Buses picked up residents in the enclave. Black clouds billowed from piles of burning tyres – which organisers say are used as a smokescreen against Israeli snipers. People have been shot tens of metres from the fence.
Israel has portrayed the movement as a terrorist ploy by Hamas, pointing out attempts to damage and breach the fence. The army said it had almost doubled the number of troops surrounding Gaza and in the occupied West Bank on Monday.
“The rioters are hurling firebombs and explosive devices towards the security fence and IDF forces, and are burning tires, throwing rocks and launching flaming objects in order to ignite fires in Israeli territory and harm IDF troops,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.
Israel’s military said its troops had killed three “terrorists” attempting to place an explosive device adjacent to the fence in the southern area of the strip “under the cover of violent riots”.
It said a fighter jet had also struck five “terrorist targets” in what it described as a Hamas military training facility in Gaza. It added that the strike was “in response to the violent acts of the last few hours being carried out by Hamas along the security fence”.
Naftali Bennett, Israel’s education minister, told Israel Radio that anyone who approached the fence would be considered a terrorist. A foreign ministry spokesman labelled protesters “murderous rioters”.
No Israeli has been harmed since the protests began on 30 March.
Organisers have called for an end to a decade-old Israeli-imposed blockade, and for refugees and their descendants to be allowed to return to their ancestral homes. Monday’s march was estimated to be the largest yet.
“I’m here because of our land that we want back. We have nothing to lose,” said Mohammed Nabieh (25), who said he was the descendant of refugees from a village near the Israeli city of Ashdod. “Nobody cares about us. Why should we wait to die slowly?”
The UN’s secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, said he was concerned about the reports of the high death toll. Amnesty International said the shootings were “another horrific example of the Israeli military using excessive force and live ammunition in a totally deplorable way”.
Large protests also took place throughout the occupied West Bank and rallies are planned inside Jerusalem at the same time as the embassy event.
Mr Trump’s Jerusalem recognition led to an outcry from world powers and dismay from Palestinians, who see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. The holy city has been one of the most contentious issues in past negotiations, and broad international consensus has been that its status will be settled under a peace deal, although Mr Trump has said Jerusalem is now “off the table”.
About 800 people attended the inauguration ceremony for the Jerusalem embassy. US ambassador Mr Friedman, has moved his office from Tel Aviv into what had been a US consulate building.
Many Israelis have praised the decision to move the diplomatic mission. The Friends of Zion Museum has erected posters in Jerusalem saying: “Make Israel Great Again” and US flags have been hung from buildings in the city.
The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said Monday was a “glorious day”. “Remember this moment. This is history. President Trump, by recognising history you have made history,” he said to applause.
Palestinians, however, see the scheduling as an insult. This week they mark the “Nakba”, or catastrophe, commemorating the more than 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes in the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.
More than 1,000 Israeli police, including special patrol units and undercover officers, will be working near the consulate. Security preparations have taken three months.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said on Monday that the US “has chosen to be a part of the problem rather than the solution”, while the Arab League planned to hold an extraordinary meeting to discuss the “illegal” embassy move, Egypt’s state news agency, Mena, reported.
Iran’s foreign minister is called the embassy move “a day of great shame”. Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday tweeted: “Israeli regime massacres countless Palestinians in cold blood as they protest in the world’s largest open air prison. Meanwhile, Trump celebrates move of US illegal embassy and his Arab collaborators move to divert attention.”
Hostility between Iran and Israel peaked last week as Israel said it had attacked dozens of Iranian military sites in Syria following what it called a Tehran-ordered rocket barrage attempt on its troops in the occupied Golan Heights.
The incident erupted two days after Mr Trump’s announcement that the US was pulling out of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement.
Washington has vowed to restart a moribund Middle East peace process, but the Palestinian leadership rejected the US’s traditional role as a mediator following Mr Trump’s Jerusalem declaration. – Guardian