GAZA: Israeli troops shot dead dozens of Palestinian protesters on the Gaza border yesterday when the high-profile opening of the US embassy to Israel in Jerusalem raised tension to boiling point after weeks of demonstrations.
Palestinian Health Ministry officials said 55 protesters were killed and 2,700 injured either by live gunfire, tear gas or other means.
The bloodshed drew calls for restraint from some countries, including France and Britain, and stronger criticism from others, with Turkey calling it “a massacre”.
The White House declined to join in urging Israel to exercise caution and pinned the blame squarely on Gaza’s Hamas group, backing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who described the Israeli military’s actions as self-defence of his country’s borders.
In contrast to the violent scenes in Gaza, Israeli dignitaries and guests attended a ceremony in Jerusalem to open the US Embassy following its relocation from Tel Aviv.
The move fulfilled a pledge by US President Donald Trump, who in December recognised the city as the Israeli capital.
In Gaza, tens of thousands streamed to the edge of the coastal enclave’s land border, some approaching the Israeli fence.
“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 Gaza science teacher Ali, who declined to give his last name.
Clouds of black smoke from tyres set alight by demonstrators rose in the air. Demonstrators, some armed with slingshots, hurled stones at the Israeli security forces, who fired volleys of tear gas and intense rounds of gunfire.
The dead included at least six people under 18 years of age, including one girl. The total number of fatalities since a series of protests to demand Palestinians’ right to return to their ancestral homes in Israel is now 100.
They also included a medic and a man in a wheelchair who had been pictured on social media using a slingshot.
“These war crimes should not go unpunished and the international community has a responsibility to provide international protection for the Palestinian people,” senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said after a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
Trump, in a recorded message, said he remained committed to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. He was represented at the ceremony by his daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, US envoy to the Middle East.
Kushner said it was possible for both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to gain more than give in any peace deal. “Jerusalem must remain a city that brings people of all faiths together,” he said in a speech.
But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the US had opened an “American settlement outpost in East Jerusalem”. He announced a general strike today.
France and Britain called on Israel to show restraint, with French President Emmanuel Macron planning to talk to all involved parties in the region over the next few days.
Britain said it had no plans to move its Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and it disagreed with the US decision to do so.
Turkey accused Israeli security forces of carrying out a massacre and said the US embassy move had encouraged them.