Israeli forces have killed 41 Palestinians and wounded at least 900 in Gaza, health officials said, as troops fired bullets at residents rallying against the Mondayopening of the US embassy in Jerusalem.
Tens of thousandsturned out across the coastal enclave in what soon became the bloodiest day in Gaza since the 2014 war. Close to forty of the casualties were critically injured and the dead included a 14-year-old boy, medics said. The sky along the frontier was blackened with thick smoke as protesters lit tyres. Intermittent sniper fire was heard and crowds of protesters were seen rushing towards the fence.
Sixty miles away in an affluent neighbourhood of Jerusalem, Washington’s ambassador, David Friedman, stood on a stage painted with the US flag and welcomed a delegation of US and Israeli VIPs, including the president’s daughter, Ivanka.
“Today’s historic event is attributed to the vision, courage, and moral clarity of one person to whom we owe an enormous and eternal debt of gratitude: President Donald J Trump,” Friedman told the crowd to cheers and a standing ovation.
Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at the opening ceremony.
“What a glorious day. Remember this moment. President Trump: by recognizing history, you have made history,” he said.
Netanyahu spoke about how as a child his neighbourhood was exposed to sniper fire from Jordan.
“That was then, this is now! Today the embassy of the most powerful nation on earth, our greatest ally, the United States of America, today its embassy opened here!”
“May the opening of this embassy in this city spread the truth far and wide.”
“God bless the United States of America and god bless Jerusalem – the eternal, undivided capital of Israel.”
Trump, who had tweeted that Monday was a “great day for Israel”, did not attend but spoke in a video message, saying he extended “a hand in friendship to Israel, the Palestinians and to all of their neighbours. May there be peace.”
Trump’s December declaration on the embassy helped to ignite a six-week protest movement as Palestinians in Gaza gathered near the Israel border, with groups throwing stonesand vandalising perimeter defences.
To international condemnation, Israeli snipers have killed dozens and wounded around 2,000 when firing on demonstrators in past rallies, according to Gaza’s ministry of health. Monday’s shootings raised the total deaths to more than 80.
Residents ignored warnings from the Israeli military that Palestinians risked their lives by taking part. “To the rioters, you are taking part in violent riots that jeopardise your lives,” the army said in leaflets dropped by jets on Monday. “Save yourselves and prioritise building your future.”
Gaza’s Hamas-led government said it would not stop people from attempting to break the metal fence. Loudspeakers at the frontier called for people to push through, although it was not clear if any succeeded.
Hamas has fought three wars with Israel but says it supports peaceful ideals advocated by civilian leaders of the protest movement.
On Monday, mosques in Gaza called for people to protest as a general strike was observed. Buses picked up residents in the enclave.Black clouds billowed from piles of burning tyres – which organisers say are used as a smokescreen against Israeli snipers.People have been shot tens of metres from the fence.
Israel has portrayed the movement as a terrorist ploy by Hamas, pointing out attempts to damage and breach the fence. The army said it had almost doubled the number of troops surrounding Gaza and in the occupied West Bank on Monday.
“The rioters are hurling firebombs and explosive devices towards the security fence and IDF forces, and are burning tires, throwing rocks and launching flaming objects in order to ignite fires in Israeli territory and harm IDF troops,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.
Israel’s military said its troops had killed three “terrorists” attempting to place an explosive device adjacent to the fence in the southern area of the strip “under the cover of violent riots”.
It said a fighter jet had also struck five “terrorist targets” in what it described as a Hamas military training facility in Gaza. It added that the strike was “in response to the violent acts of the last few hours being carried out by Hamas along the security fence.”
Naftali Bennett, Israel’s education minister, told Israel Radio that anyone who approached the fence would be considered a terrorist. A foreign ministry spokesman labelled protesters “murderous rioters”.
No Israeli has been harmed since gatherings began on 30 March.
Organisers have called for an end to a decade-old Israeli-imposed blockade, and for refugees and their descendants to be allowed to return to their ancestral homes. Monday’s march was estimated to be the largest yet.
“I’m here because of our land that we want back. We have nothing to lose,” said 25-year-old Mohammed Nabieh, who said he is the descendant of refugees from a village near the Israeli city of Ashdod. “Nobody cares about us. Why should we wait to die slowly?”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was concerned about the reports of the high number of people killed. Human rights advocacy group Amnesty International said the shootings were “another horrific example of the Israeli military using excessive force and live ammunition in a totally deplorable way.”
Large protests also took place throughout the occupied West Bank and rallies are planned inside Jerusalem at the same time as the embassy event.
Trump Jerusalem recognition led to an outcry from world powers and dismay from Palestinians, who see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
The holy city has been one of the most contentious issues in past negotiations, and broad international consensus has been that its status will be settled under a peace deal, although Trump has said Jerusalem is now “off the table”.
About 800 people attended the inauguration ceremony for the Jerusalem embassy. US ambassador Friedman, will move his office from Tel Aviv into what had been a US consulate building.
Many Israelis have praised the decision to move the diplomatic mission. The Friends of Zion Museum has erected posters in Jerusalem saying: “Make Israel Great Again” and US flags have been hung from buildings in the city.
The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said Monday was a “glorious day”.
“Remember this moment. This is history. President Trump, by recognising history you have made history,” he said to applause.
Palestinians, however, see the scheduling as an insult. This week they mark the “Nakba”, or catastrophe, commemorating the more than 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes in the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.
More than 1,000 Israeli police, including special patrol units and undercover officers, will be working near the consulate. Security preparations have taken three months.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said on Monday that the US “has chosen to be a part of the problem rather than the solution”, while the Arab League planned to hold an extraordinary meeting to discuss the “illegal” embassy move, Egypt’s state news agency, Mena, reported.
Iran’s foreign minister is called the embassy move “a day of great shame”.
Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday wrote on Twitter: “Israeli regime massacres countless Palestinians in cold blood as they protest in the world’s largest open air prison. Meanwhile, Trump celebrates move of US illegal embassy and his Arab collaborators move to divert attention.”
Hostility between Iran and Israel reached a peak last week as Israel said it had attacked dozens of Iranian military sites in Syria following what it called a Tehran-ordered rocket barrage attempt on its troops in the occupied Golan Heights.
The incident erupted two days after Trump’s announcement that the US was pulling out of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement.
Washington has vowed to restart a moribund Middle East peace process, but the Palestinian leadership rejected the US’s traditional role as a mediator following Trump’s Jerusalem declaration.