Gaza's Health Ministry says the number of Palestinian protesters killed by Israeli army fire near the Gaza border has risen to 55, including five children. Monday's deaths bring to 93 the number of protesters killed since mass border protests against a decade-old blockade of the Hamas-ruled territory began in late March.
Israel has said it will prevent a border breach at any cost. A growing casualty toll Monday was bound to revive international criticism of open-fire rules under which soldiers are permitted to shoot anyone approaching the border fence.
Rights groups have said such rules are unlawful. Israel says it has the right to defend its border.
Protests intensified on the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding, as loudspeakers on Gaza mosques urged Palestinians to join a “Great March of Return”. Black smoke from tyres burned by demonstrators rose into the air at the border.
“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.
“Many may get martyred today, so many, but the world will hear our message. Occupation must end,” he said.
Israeli troops killed earlier two men aged 21 and 29 on Monday, health officials said, bringing the Palestinian death toll to 47 since the protests began on March 30. No Israeli casualties have been reported.
The killings have drawn international criticism, but the United States, which has angered the Palestinians and Arab powers by relocating its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, has echoed Israel in accusing Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement of instigating violence.
Later in the day, Israeli leaders and a US delegation including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and President Donald Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, were due to attend the opening of the embassy.
A female Palestinian demonstrator gestures during a protest against US embassy move to Jerusalem.
“What a moving day for the people of Israel and the State of Israel,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on Twitter.
Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s Middle East peace envoy, said on Twitter that “taking the long-overdue step of moving our Embassy is not a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace deal. Rather, it is a necessary condition for it.”
But Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December and the relocation of the embassy were “blatant violations of international law”.
The Palestinians, who want their own future state with its capital in east Jerusalem, have been outraged by Trump’s shift from previous administrations’ preference for keeping the US Embassy in Tel Aviv pending progress in peace efforts.
Those talks have been frozen since 2014. Other major powers worry that the US move could also inflame Palestinian unrest in the occupied West Bank, which Israel captured along with East Jerusalem in a 1967 war.
Israel’s military dropped leaflets into the enclave on Monday, warning Palestinians “not to serve as a tool of Hamas” or approach or damage Israel’s frontier fence.
But thousands of Palestinians massed at five locations along the line. Of the 35 people wounded by Israeli gunfire, four were journalists, the officials said.
The Israeli military says its troops are defending the border and firing in accordance with the rules of engagement.
“We are prepared to face the Hamas threats to disrupt the (embassy) festivities,” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman tweeted.
“My recommendation to the residents of Gaza: Don’t be blinded by (Hamas’s Gaza leader, Yehya Al-) Sinwar, who is sending your children to sacrifice their lives without any utility. We will defend our citizens with all measures and will not allow the fence to be crossed.”
The protests are scheduled to culminate on Tuesday, the day Palestinians mourn as the “Nakba” or “Catastrophe” when, in 1948, hundreds of thousands of them were driven out of their homes or fled the fighting around Israel’s creation.
“Choosing a tragic day in Palestinian history (to open the Jerusalem embassy) shows great insensibility and disrespect for the core principles of the peace process,” Hamdallah wrote.
Most countries say Jerusalem’s status should be determined in a final peace settlement, and that moving their embassies now would prejudge any such deal.
But Guatemala plans to open an embassy in Jerusalem on Wednesday, and its ambassador visited the new site, in an office building in the western part of the city on Monday. Paraguay is to follow suit later this month.