GAZA CITY – At least 55 Palestinians were killed Monday and more than 1,000 others injured when Israeli forces fired on demonstrations along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, the Gaza Health Ministry said Monday.
The Israeli army estimated that more than 40,000 Palestinians took part in the protests at a dozen sites along the border fence, and said its soldiers were following “standard operating procedures” to push back Palestinians seeking to break through the border fence.
The number of dead and injured made it the Gaza Strip’s bloodiest day since the 2014 Gaza war. The violence escalated as the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem with a large ceremony some 70 kilometres north-east of the blockaded coastal enclave.
Monday’s protest is the culmination of six weeks of demonstrations along the border in which scores of Palestinians have been killed.
Palestinians – some throwing stones and explosives, and setting tyres alight – have squared off against Israeli army snipers along the Gaza border. Groups of mostly young men have pushed towards the border fence in an attempt to break it down, while the army has used tear gas and live fire on those who come too close.
The army on Monday doubled its forces along the border, fearing a large push by demonstrators to break through it.
Hamas, which has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007, has encouraged Palestinians to storm the fence.
Israeli army spokesman Ronen Manelis told reporters that the protests saw “unprecedented violence” and said three groups of gunmen were operating under the cover of the demonstrations.
He added that no Palestinians managed to enter Israeli territory.
Three of the dead were Palestinians who were killed while attempting to plant an explosive device along the border fence, the Israeli army said.
The demonstrators are demanding an end to Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip and a return to lands Palestinians fled 70 years ago during the war that marked Israel’s creation.
The Israeli army said Hamas, the Islamist group which much of the West considers a terrorist organization, is using the mask of protests to break down the border fence and infiltrate Israel.
White House spokesman Raj Shah also blamed Hamas, saying it has “intentionally and cynically” provoked the response to the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem.
“We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Hamas is the one that, frankly, bear responsibility for the entire situation right now,” Shah told reporters at the White House.
Senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar blamed US President Donald Trump for the deaths. “Trump, who is moving today his country’s embassy to Jerusalem without any concerns or deterrence, is the first and only one responsible for the suffering of the Palestinian people’s blood shed today,” Zahar said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for three days of mourning and a general strike in response to the violence.
The Palestinian Authority requested an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres Israel should minimize the use of lethal force to avert “death or serious injury.” He also called on Palestinian leaders to prevent violence and all attempts by protesters to breach the border fence.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called for all sides to act with restraint to avoid “further unspeakable suffering.”
Condemnations also rained in from Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia and others. South Africa recalled its ambassador to Israel.
Around 2 million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip, the majority of whom are Palestinian refugees who fled lands in present-day Israel in 1948 or their descendants. -dpa