World

58 Palestinians killed, hundreds wounded from Israeli fire amid embassy move

JERUSALEM — A mass attempt by Palestinians to cross the border fence separating Israel from the Gaza Strip on Monday quickly turned violent as Israeli soldiers responded with rifle fire, killing 58 Palestinians and wounding more than 2,700.

Monday was the bloodiest day since the campaign of demonstrations began seven weeks ago at the border to protest Israel’s economic blockade of the Gaza Strip. It was also the deadliest day of cross-border violence since the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas forces in Gaza.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians took part in Monday’s protests, which also spread to the West Bank, where the focus was on opposition to the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

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A ceremony opening the new embassy was timed with the 70th anniversary of the formation of Israel, with an air of formality and celebration that created an almost surreal contrast to the violence raging barely 40 miles away.

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The Health Ministry said the Palestinians who were were killed in the Gaza Strip included several teenagers. 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 some in the crowds were planting or hurling explosives or sending flaming kites into Israel.

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.

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A spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces, Lieutenant 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.

Even as Palestinians’ anger erupted, US 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 move the embassy, 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, Trump said the United States “remains fully committed to facilitating a lasting peace agreement.”

In a speech at the ceremony, Jared Kushner, 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.

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

“What a glorious day,” he 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.”

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 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.

“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 the Gaza Strip, 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 the Gaza Strip, said 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,” Hayya 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.

The shift of the US Embassy to Jerusalem reflects the close alliance that has developed between Trump and 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 want the eastern part of Jerusalem to become the capital of a Palestinian state, see the move as an abdication of any vestige of US impartiality in determining the region’s future.

“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.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin attended the embassy opening, along with Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Kushner, whom the president has tapped as his chief Mideast peace negotiator. They were joined by a small contingent of Republican lawmakers.

While Hamas, the militant group that governs the Gaza Strip, has led the protests in the territory, 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 long-standing 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 Saidam, the education minister.

Outside the Qalandiya refugee camp north of Jerusalem, youths released black balloons that carried black Palestinian flags, showing their disdain for the US move.

Even before marchers arrived there from Ramallah, clashes pitted demonstrators throwing rocks and firebombs and Israeli forces, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets.

Clashes were also reported in Bethlehem, Jericho, Hebron, and Nablus.