Fifty-two Palestinians were killed in confrontations with Israeli troops after tens of thousands converged on the Gaza Strip border in a violent protest, throwing a pall over President Donald Trump’s contentious inauguration of a US embassy in Jerusalem.
It was the deadliest day in Hamas-run Gaza since Israel warred with protesters there in 2014. Hundreds were also wounded by live fire, the Gaza Health Ministry reported.
About 100 Palestinians have been killed since a campaign of protests began on March 30, according to the health officials.
The US decision to relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv was a diplomatic victory for Israeli officials, but a blow to the Palestinians, who see it as undermining their claim to establish a capital in the city’s eastern sector. Gaza protesters, egged on by loudspeakers and transported in buses, streamed to the border, where some threw rocks, burned tires, and flew kites and balloons outfitted with firebombs into Israeli territory.
The Israeli military, which has airdropped leaflets warning protesters to stay away from the frontier.
The “March of Return,” as the weeks-long protest is known, began as an effort by grassroots groups to draw attention to the Palestinians’ demand to return to homes lost in fighting surrounding Israel’s 1948 creation. The campaign, which took shape after the embassy transfer was announced, was quickly co-opted by Hamas, eager to divert popular anger away from its management of impoverished Gaza.
Border confrontations are expected to spill into Tuesday, when Palestinians mark the 70th anniversary of the “nakba,” or “catastrophe,” of their displacement by Israel’s birth.
As the violence unfolded in Gaza, Israeli officials prepared to celebrate the transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem, a move Trump’s predecessors and most other countries have shunned to avoid taking sides in the contest over sovereignty.
Trump, who vowed to move the embassy from Tel Aviv during his campaign, was expected to address invitees to the designation ceremony via video conference. Representing Trump at the ceremony were his daughter, Ivanka, her husband, Jared Kushner, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan.
“Many presidents signed a waiver for national security reasons not to move the embassy,” Mnuchin said at a reception hosted by an Orthodox Jewish group. “President Trump is moving the embassy because it’s a national security priority to have the embassy here in Jerusalem.”
When Trump declared on December 6 that “it is time to officially recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” he said it wouldn’t prejudge the contested city’s final status, and that he hoped the move would spur the renewal of peace negotiations. Instead, the decision angered much of the Middle East, including US allies, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas responded by breaking off all contact with the Trump administration.
“As the Palestinian people continue to endure 70 years of ongoing nakba, ethnic cleansing and exile, as well as over 50 years of occupation, the US administration has chosen to celebrate it by moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said. “This infamous hostile act against international law and against the people of Palestine places the US on the side of the occupying power, Israel.”
Israeli police beefed up their presence around the city, with 1,000 officers tasked with providing security for the embassy opening, spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. Forces include anti-terrorism units, undercover officers and paramilitary border police, with special attention being paid to Arab neighborhoods near the embassy site, he said.