Middle East

Israeli forces kill Palestinian protesters at Gaza border, while US celebrates embassy opening

Soldiers opened fire on protesters near the Gaza border, where thousands gathered to oppose Donald Trump’s decision to transfer the US mission from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 May, 2018, 7:11pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 May, 2018, 11:39pm

Israeli troops killed dozens of Palestinians at a mass protests on the Gaza border on Monday as the US celebrated the opening of its embassy to Israel in Jerusalem.

The US move fulfilled a pledge by US President Donald Trump, who has recognised the holy city as the Israeli capital, but it has fired Palestinian anger and drawn criticism from many foreign governments as a set back to peace efforts.

“Today we open the United States embassy in Jerusalem, Israel,” US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said at the ceremony, attended by a delegation from Washington and Israeli leaders.

Trump tweeted that it was “A great day for Israel”.

His recognition of contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December outraged Palestinians, who said the US could no longer serve as an honest broker in any peace process with Israel.

In a videotaped message played at the opening, Trump said the new embassy has “been a long time coming” the United States “remains fully committed to facilitating a lasting peace agreement.”

On the Gaza border, at least 41 Palestinians were killed by Israeli gunfire in the latest in a round of protests dubbed the “Great March of Return”, health officials said.

It was the highest Palestinian death toll in a single day since the first border protest on March 30, and since the 2014 Gaza war.

Health officials said 900 Palestinians were wounded, about 450 of them by live bullets.

Tens of thousands had streamed to the coastal enclave’s land border, less than 100km (60 miles) from Jerusalem, some approaching the fence – a line Israeli leaders said Palestinians would not be allowed to breach that had Israeli snipers positioned on the other side.

Israel’s military said “approximately 10,000 violent rioters are currently assembled in a number of locations along the Gaza Strip border and thousands more are gathered by the tents approximately half a kilometre away from the security fence”.

It said soldiers “are responding with riot dispersal means and fire, and are operating according to standard operating procedures”.

Demonstrators, some armed with catapults, hurled stones at the Israeli security forces, who fired volleys of tear gas and intense rounds of gunfire.

“Today is the big day when we will cross the fence and tell Israel and the world we will not accept being occupied forever,” said Ali, a Gaza science teacher.

Mohammed Hamami, a 40-year-old civil servant, joined a crowd of hundreds of protesters, along with his mother and five children, in one of the border areas east of Gaza City.

“We are here to send a message to Israel and its allies that we will never give up on our land,” he said. “We will cross the border and impose new realities like the reality Trump imposed in Jerusalem,” referring to US President Donald Trump’s decision in December to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there.

The relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv has infuriated the Palestinians, who seek East Jerusalem as a future capital.

Hamas leaders have been suggesting a border breach would be possible on Monday, while Israel warned it would prevent protesters from breaking through the barrier at any cost. With Israel and Hamas digging in, there have been concerns about large numbers of casualties.

The protest also marks the 70th anniversary of what Palestinians call their “nakba”, or catastrophe, a reference to the hundreds of thousands who fled or were forced out of what is now Israel during the 1948 war.

Most Gaza residents are descendants of refugees and the protests have been billed as the “Great March of Return”.

In his speech at the opening ceremony, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and chief Middle East adviser, said the Palestinians taking part in Gaza border protests were “part of the problem and not part of the solution”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the move.

“What a glorious day,” he said. “What a moving day for the people of Israel and the state of Israel.”

He ended his speech describing Jerusalem as the “eternal, undivided capital of Israel”.

But even America’s closest allies avoided the ceremony and the killing of the Palestinian civilians angered the Arab world and rights groups.

Egypt strongly condemned what it said was Israel’s targeting of Palestinian civilians.

“Egypt rejects the use of force against peaceful marches demanding legitimate and just rights, and warns of the negative consequences of this dangerous escalation in the occupied Palestinian territories,” the foreign ministry in Cairo said in a statement.

Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit blasted as “shameful” countries celebrating the opening of the US embassy in Israel in the disputed holy city.

Amnesty International slammed the killing of civilians by the Israeli army.

“We are witnessing an abhorrent violation of international law and human rights in Gaza … This must end immediately,” the London-based human rights group said on Twitter.

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Reuters