At least 55 killed in Gaza as US Embassy opens in Jerusalem
Israeli fire killed at least 55 Palestinians during mass protests along the Gaza border on May 14, marking the deadliest day of violence there since a devastating 2014 cross-border war and casting a pall 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. The Israeli military claimed its troops had come under fire. It said troops shot and killed three Palestinians who were trying to plant a bomb.
By midafternoon, at least 41 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.
The Hamas-led protest in Gaza was meant to be the biggest yet in a weeks-long campaign against a decade-old blockade of the territory. The march was also directed at the inauguration of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem which took place in the afternoon on May 14.
“A great day for Israel!” Trump tweeted early on May 14.
The day 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 protests mark the culmination of a campaign, led by Hamas and fueled by despair among Gaza’s 2 million people, to break the decade-old border 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, 83 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.
Ismail Radwan, a senior Hamas figure, said the mass border protests against Israel will continue “until the rights of the Palestinian people are achieved.”
“Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem will be a disaster on the American administration and a black day in the history of the American people because they are partners with the occupation and its aggression against the Palestinian people,” he added.
Hamas leaders have suggested a border breach is possible Monday, something Israel has vowed to prevent at any cost.
Most of the casualties were in the southern Gaza towns of Khan Younis and Rafah. Israeli forces were firing volleys of tear gas to disperse the crowds, and the sound of heavy gunfire could be heard. Sirens were constantly wailing as the wounded were carried to nearby ambulances. Groups of young activists repeatedly approached the fence, but were quickly scattered by gunfire and tear gas.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said the army had set up additional “layers” of security in and around communities near the border to defend Israeli civilians. He said there already had been several “significant attempts” to break through the fence.
“Even if the fence is breached, we will be able to protect Israeli civilians from attempts to massacre or kidnap or kill them,” he said.
In a statement, the army said troops had shot and killed three Palestinians who attempted to plant a bomb along the fence. It also said an aircraft had targeted a Hamas post in northern Gaza after Israeli troops came under fire.
The timing of the May 14 events was deeply symbolic, both to Israel and the Palestinians.
The U.S. said it chose the date to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s establishment.
But it also marks the anniversary of what Palestinians call their “nakba,” or catastrophe, a reference to the uprooting of hundreds of thousands who fled or were expelled from what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s independence.
Leaflets dropped over Gaza by army jets warned that those approaching the border “jeopardize” their lives. The warning said the army is “prepared to face all scenarios and will act against every attempt to damage the security fence or harm IDF soldiers or Israeli civilians.”
Trump’s decision to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was welcomed by Israel and condemned by the Palestinians.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it in a move not recognized by the international community. The Palestinians seek the city’s eastern half as the capital of a future state.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas cut ties with the Trump administration and declared it unfit to mediate peace talks.
Saeb Erekat, a senior Abbas aide, said Monday that Trump had violated a promise to hold off on moving the embassy to give peace talks a chance and that his administration is “based on lies.”
Erekat said the Trump administration has “become part of the problem, not part of the solution.”
In the West Bank, several dozen Palestinian stone-throwers clashed with Israeli troops on the outskirts of Jerusalem, with no immediate reports of injuries. Earlier Monday, several thousand gathered in the West Bank city of Ramallah to protest the inauguration of the new embassy.
Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as a capital and view the Trump administration’s change in policy as a blatant show of pro-Israel bias. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly praised Trump’s decision to upend decades of U.S. policy by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Although Trump has said his declaration does not set the final borders of the city, it is seen by both Israel and the Palestinians as taking Israel’s side in the most sensitive issue in their conflict.
Only two countries, Guatemala and Paraguay, have said they will follow suit.
The opening ceremony was attended by Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who both serve as White House advisers. Kushner leads the Trump Mideast team.