Israel Kills 52 Palestinians at Gaza Border as U.S. Embassy Opens in Jerusalem

Palestinian officials say at least 52 people have been killed in the latest round of protests.

• More than 2,400 Palestinian demonstrators were also wounded on Monday along the border fence with Gaza, the Health Ministry reported. The mass protests began on March 30 and had already left dozens dead.

• The protests on Monday took place as the United States Embassy was formally relocated to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, on the 70th anniversary of the formation of Israel. The formality and celebration created an almost surreal contrast to the violence raging barely 40 miles away.

Protesters along Israel’s border with Gaza, left. Also on Monday, President Trump’s daughter Ivanka, pictured with the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, attended the opening of the United States Embassy in Jerusalem. CreditMahmud Hams, Menahem Kahana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Protests on Gaza border turn bloody.

A mass attempt by Palestinians to cross the border fence separating Israel from Gaza quickly turned violent, as Israeli soldiers responded with rifle fire. Monday became the bloodiest day since the campaign of demonstrations began seven weeks ago to protest Israel’s economic blockade of Gaza.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians took part in the Gaza protests, which spread on Monday to the West Bank, where the focus was on opposition to the embassy move.

By 7 p.m., 52 Palestinians, including several teenagers, were dead and more than 2,400 were injured in Gaza, the Health Ministry said. Israeli soldiers and snipers used barrages of tear gas as well as live gunfire to keep protesters from entering Israeli territory.

The Israeli military said that some in the crowds were planting or hurling explosives, and that many were flying flaming kites into Israel; at least one kite outside the Nahal Oz kibbutz, near Gaza City, ignited a wildfire.

By midafternoon, the protest nearest to Gaza City had turned into a pitched battle — a chaotic panorama of smoke, sirens and tear gas that stretched along the fence. Emergency workers with stretchers carried off a stream of injured protesters, many with leg wounds but some having been shot in the abdomen. A number were teenagers.

A spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces, Lt. Colonel Jonathan Conricus, cast doubt on the casualty numbers from the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry; he said a large number of those listed as wounded had suffered only tear-gas inhalation.

Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, spoke during the ceremony to open the embassy. CreditMenahem Kahana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Even as Palestinians’ anger erupted, American and Israeli officials celebrated President Trump’s move of the embassy to Jerusalem. Previous administrations in Washington, like the governments of most American allies, had been unwilling to make the transfer, insisting that the status of Jerusalem needed to be resolved in a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

In a recorded video message played to some 800 people gathered at the new embassy, Mr. Trump said the United States “remains fully committed to facilitating a lasting peace agreement.”

In a speech at the ceremony, Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, also spoke of a resolution to generations of conflict. “When there is peace in this region, we will look back upon this day and will remember that the journey to peace started with a strong America recognizing the truth,” he said.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel sounded more triumphant and defiant than conciliatory.

“What a glorious day,” Mr. Netanyahu exulted. “Remember this moment! This is history! President Trump, by recognizing history, you have made history.”

“We are in Jerusalem and we are here to stay,” he said. “We are here in Jerusalem protected by the great soldiers of the army of Israel and our brave soldiers are protecting the border of Israel as we speak today.”

A wounded Palestinian man during protests near Gaza’s border with Israel. CreditKhalil Hamra/Associated Press

Near Gaza City, a voice on a loudspeaker urged the crowd forward: “Get closer! Get closer!”

The charge was often led by women dressed in black, waving Palestinian flags and urging others to follow.

“We don’t want just one or two people to get closer,” said an elderly woman clutching a shoulder bag and a flag. “We want a big group.”

The atmosphere grew more charged after midday prayers, when more than 1,000 men gathered under a large blue awning. Officials from Hamas and other militant factions addressed the worshipers, urging them into the fray and claiming — falsely, to all appearances — that the fence had been breached and that Palestinians were flooding into Israel.

Several speakers reserved their harshest words for the United States and its decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem. “America is the greatest Satan,” said a cleric, holding his index finger in the air as hundreds of people did the same. “Now we are heading to Jerusalem with millions of martyrs. We may die but Palestine will live.” The crowd repeated the chant.

As the cleric spoke, more smoke rose in the sky behind him, and worshipers peeled away and began to walk toward the fence.

At 5:30 p.m., shortly after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza, organizers who had been urging people toward the fence all day suddenly began shooing them away, and the day’s action quickly subsided.

Hamas officials vowed that the protests would continue. Khalil al-Hayya, deputy chief of Hamas in Gaza, said at a news conference that the purpose of Monday’s demonstrations was to “powerfully confront the embassy deal” and also to “draw the map of return in blood.”

“The American administration bears responsibility for all consequences following the implementation of this unjust decision,” Mr. Hayyah said. “This crime will not pass.”

Hamas officials also hinted at the possibility of a military strike at Israel by the group’s military wing, the Qassam brigades.

David M. Friedman, the American ambassador to Israel, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel at the embassy opening on Monday. CreditMenahem Kahana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The shift of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem reflects the close alliance that has developed between Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu, which Palestinian leaders say has worsened prospects for peace.

Many Israelis see the relocation of the embassy as simply acknowledging that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. But Palestinians, who hope to see the eastern part of Jerusalem become the capital of a Palestinian state, see the move as an abdication of any vestige of American impartiality in determining the region’s future.

[Here are nine things to know about Jerusalem and the controversy over the American Embassy.]

“Today is a day of sadness,” said Sabri Saidam, the Palestinian minister of education. “It’s a manifestation of the power of America and President Trump in upsetting the Palestinian people and the people who have been awaiting the independence of Palestine for 70 years.”

The embassy opening began at 4 p.m., with the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and President Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Mr. Kushner, whom the president has tapped as his chief Middle East peace negotiator. They were joined by a small contingent of Republican lawmakers.

In the West Bank, protesters moved toward the Qalandiya checkpoint into Jerusalem, a longstanding hot spot for clashes with Israeli security forces. CreditMohamad Torokman/Reuters

While Hamas, the militant group that governs Gaza, has led the protests in the territory — and managed to revive international interest in the Palestinian cause in the process — the rival Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, made a more subdued show of support.

Palestinians marched at midday in West Bank cities from Hebron to Nablus. In Ramallah, a small crowd gathered before noon and marched south toward the Qalandiya checkpoint into Jerusalem, a longstanding hot spot for clashes with Israeli security forces.

At the front of the march were leaders of the Palestinian Authority, the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Fatah movement, including Jibril Rajoub, general secretary of Fatah, and Mr. Saidam, the education minister.

“Palestine is on the map,” Mr. Rajoub said. “This is a right. This is a must. The emergence of the Palestinian independent state with Jerusalem as its capital is the only way to achieve security, regional stability and contribute to global peace.”

Outside the Qalandiya refugee camp north of Jerusalem, youths released bunches of black balloons that carried aloft black Palestinian flags, showing their disdain for the American move. Even before marchers arrived there from Ramallah, clashes pitted demonstrators throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails against Israeli security forces firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

Clashes were also reported in Bethlehem, Jericho, Hebron and Nablus. But one usual site of conflicts was relatively quiet: the checkpoint near Beit El. A possible reason: Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, returned on Monday from a trip overseas, and security officials ensured that his path home to Ramallah was clear.

A protester scuffled with the Israeli police outside the new United States Embassy in Jerusalem.CreditAhmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Israel has stirred widespread international anger over the use of lethal force against mostly unarmed Palestinian protesters, which on Monday produced the biggest one-day toll of Palestinians killed by Israelis since Israel’s 2014 invasion of Gaza.

Israel said its soldiers had exercised restraint and that many more protesters would die if they tried to cross into Israeli territory. But Doctors Without Borders, the international medical charity, said on Friday that it had treated more Palestinians at its Gaza clinics in the past month than during the 2014 conflict and that some of the exit wounds from Israeli ammunition were “fist-size.”

The Israeli military fires tear gas canisters to repel crowds. Shifting winds and gas masks worn by some protesters can render the gas ineffective, however, and Palestinians have become adept at flinging the canisters back or quickly burying them.

Israel has used rubber bullets as a deterrent, but military officials say they are effective only at short range. Israel says its soldiers are allowed to use live ammunition as a last resort and are instructed to aim at people’s ankles or legs.

On Friday, B’Tselem, a leading Israeli human rights organization, criticized the military’s use of lethal force, saying that the demonstrations were no surprise and that Israel had “plenty of time to come up with alternate approaches.”

“The fact that live gunfire is once again the sole measure that the Israeli military is using in the field evinces appalling indifference towards human life on the part of senior Israeli government and military officials,” the group said.

But the leader of the center-left opposition in the Israeli Parliament faulted Hamas for what he called its self-destructive actions.

“Events in Gaza are very serious, painful and difficult but I must say one thing, in all fairness,” the leader, Isaac Herzog, said in a radio interview. “To whoever is sending them to these protests — violence and force will not help you. Look at 70 years of history: You have not achieved anything from violence.”

An Israeli drone dropping tear gas canisters on Palestinian protesters.CreditMohammed Abed/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Israel’s use of force on Monday included not only infantry with rifles, but also fighter jets and a tank, as it repulsed what it said were unsuccessful attempts by Hamas to have armed fighters slip across the border.

At least three separate squads of armed Hamas fighters “tried to use the commotion and smoke and dynamics of the riots as concealment, and then launched an attack on the fence,” said Colonel Conricus, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces.

Though he said the Palestinian fighters were carrying firearms, he acknowledged that there had been no reports of Israeli troops coming under gunfire. An Israeli soldier was wounded by shrapnel from what was believed to be an explosive device, he added.

The attempts to breach the fence expanded from five locations in previous protests to 13 on Monday, Colonel Conricus said, calling it an “unprecedented level of violence.”

In retaliation, he said, Israeli jets struck five targets in a Hamas military training facility in the northern Gaza Strip, and two other Hamas military positions in the area were hit by an aircraft and a tank.

Israel has made clear throughout the protests that it holds Hamas responsible for any violence emanating from Gaza, and Colonel Conricus made no apologies for the one-sided body count.

“Hamas is killing Gaza,” he said. “We, on the other hand, are defending our homes.”

He said the Palestinians involved in the violence did not deserve to be called protesters.

“Whatever comes close to the fence are rioters, with one purpose, of crossing the fence — nothing else.”

Tear gas at demonstrations near the border between Gaza and Israel on Monday.CreditMohammed Abed/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The mass protests in Gaza, promoted by Hamas, were expected to peak on Tuesday with an effort by thousands of people to cross the fence, despite warnings from Israel, possibly setting the stage for more bloodshed.

The demonstrations were originally meant to protest the economic blockade by Israel of Gaza, the impoverished region governed by Hamas. Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank, have joined in the economic squeeze that has left Gazans increasingly desperate.

The timing is no accident — May 15 is observed by Palestinians as the anniversary of what they call the nakba, or catastrophe. It marks the expulsion or flight from the newly formed Jewish state of hundreds of thousands of Arabs in 1948, who have been unable to return or reclaim property they left behind.

The demonstrations at the Gaza fence have taken place primarily on Fridays since March 30, and have already left dozens of people dead and thousands injured. In those protests, demonstrators have thrown gasoline bombs or rolled burning tires toward Israeli soldiers, and Israeli security forces have said that some of the Palestinians who were killed were armed with semiautomatic rifles.

Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, demanded international action against Israel.CreditAbbas Momani/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Palestinian officials demanded international action against Israel and vowed that demonstrations would continue.

“We are asking the world and especially the Arab World to intervene immediately to end the massacre of our people,” Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, said at a news conference in Ramallah.

The new United States Embassy, he said, “is not an embassy but a new outpost in East Jerusalem,” which the Palestinians claim.

Mr. Abbas was unusually succinct, speaking for barely eight minutes, saying that protests would go on and that there would be a general strike on Tuesday.

Kuwait, a member of the United Nations Security Council, said it had requested a meeting of the council on Tuesday, “in light of the developments on the ground and the killing of innocent civilians.”

In New York, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad H. Mansour, said his government might refer the matter to the International Criminal Court for prosecution.

“Israel, the occupying power, has abdicated its international responsibility,” he told reporters. “On the contrary, it is the source of killing.”

Mr. Mansour drew a direct link between the protests and the embassy celebrations in Jerusalem.

“It is very tragic they’re celebrating an illegal action while Israel is killing civilians,” he said. “Let them look at what is really happening, in the Gaza Strip.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *