Death toll of Palestinian protesters killed on Gaza border continues to rise
More than 70 Palestinians killed during mass border marches since March
JERUSALEM – Israeli soldiers shot and killed at least 52 Palestinians during mass protests along the Gaza border on Monday. It was the deadliest day there since a devastating 2014 cross-border war and cast a shadow over Israel’s festive inauguration of the new U.S. Embassy in contested Jerusalem.
In a show of anger fueled by the embassy move, protesters set tires on fire, sending plumes of black smoke into the air, and hurled firebombs and stones toward Israeli troops across the border. Later on Monday, Israeli forces fired from tanks, sending protesters fleeing to take cover.
The military said its troops came under fire in some areas, and said protesters tried to break through the border fence. It said troops shot and killed three Palestinians trying to plant a bomb.
President Donald Trump said in a video message played at the embassy inauguration -- which took place just 70 miles from the bloodshed on the Gaza border -- that he remains committed to "facilitating a lasting peace agreement" between Israelis and Palestinians.
"A great day for Israel!" Trump tweeted earlier Monday.
However, Monday's steadily climbing death toll and wall-to-wall condemnation of the embassy move by the Arab world raised new doubts about Trump's ambitions to broker what he once said would be the Mideast "deal of the century."
By late afternoon, at least 43 Palestinians, including five minors, were killed, the Gaza Health Ministry said. One of the minors was identified as a girl.
At least 772 protesters were wounded, including 86 in serious or critical condition.
At the embassy ceremony in Jerusalem, Trump son-in-law and chief Mideast adviser Jared Kushner placed the blame on the Gaza protesters.
"As we have seen from the protests of the last month and even today those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution," he said.
Kushner and Trump daughter Ivanka led a high-powered American delegation that also included the treasury secretary and four Republican senators.
The new embassy will temporarily operate from an existing U.S. consulate, until a decision has been made on a permanent location.
In Gaza, the Hamas-led protest was meant to be the biggest yet in a weeks-long campaign against a decade-old blockade of the territory. The Israeli military estimated a turnout of about 40,000, saying this fell short of what Hamas had hoped for.
The march was also directed at the inauguration of the embassy.
Moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem -- a key Trump campaign promise -- infuriated the Palestinians, who seek east Jerusalem as a future capital.
Monday marked the biggest showdown in years between Israel’s military and Gaza's Hamas rulers along the volatile border. The sides have largely observed a cease-fire since the 2014 war -- their third in a decade.
The protest was the culmination of a campaign, led by Hamas and fueled by despair among Gaza's 2 million people, to break the blockade of the territory imposed by Israel and Egypt after Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007. Since weekly border marches began in late March, 85 Palestinian protesters have been killed and more than 2,500 wounded by Israeli army fire. Hamas said four members, including three security men, were among the dead Monday.
Israel has said it would prevent a potential breach of the Gaza border at all costs. It has drawn international criticism for what rights groups say are unlawful open-fire rules. Israel says it has the right to defend its border.
Monday's protests also targeted the opening of the U.S. Embassy in contested Jerusalem later in the day.
Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group says the U.S. decision to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is a unilateral step "that Palestinians will not accept and therefore it is worthless."
The group's deputy leader, Sheikh Naim Kassem, made his comments in a speech in Beirut on Monday marking the 70th anniversary of what Arabs refer to as the "nakba" or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from what is now Israel during the 1948 war around Israel's creation.
Kassem added that "God willing, the nakba that happened 70 years ago will be a motive for change and liberation."
Gov. Rick Scott is visiting Israel for the opening of the U.S. embassy and he is expected to return on Tuesday.
John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, said that Scott's chief of staff is accompanying the Republican governor on the visit.
Scott backed the decision of President Donald Trump to shift the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Scott has previously made two official trips to Israel, including a trade mission last December. His trip is being paid for by the state.
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