Israeli troops have shot dead dozens of Palestinian protesters on the Gaza border against the backdrop of the high-profile moving of the US embassy to Israel in Jerusalem by the Trump administration raised tension to boiling point after weeks of demonstrations.
In the bloodiest single day for Palestinians since 2014, Palestinian Health Ministry officials said 58 protesters were killed and 2,700 injured by live gunfire, tear gas or other means.
But less than 100 miles away in Jerusalem, politicians and diplomats turned out to celebrate the opening of the new US embassy, controversially moved from Tel Aviv at the decree of President Donald Trump.
At the opening reception, the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, told the audience, which included Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, that Monday’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”.
Trump, who was not present at the opening ceremony but sent a video message, later tweeted Monday was “great day for Israel”.
In Gaza, tens of thousands gathered at the frontier while thick black smoke from tyres set alight by demonstrators rose in the air, and tear gas rained down. Some 450 people were thought to have been injured by live ammunition, health officials said.
According to AFP, the US last night blocked the adoption of a UN Security Council statement calling for an independent investigation of the violence.
The draft document, vetoed by Washington, reportedly read: “The Security Council expresses its outrage and sorrow at the killing of Palestinian civilians exercising their right to peaceful protest. The Security Council calls for an independent and transparent investigation into these actions to ensure accountability.”
President Trump recognised the city as Israel’s capital on December 6, 2017, calling it “a long-overdue step to advance the peace process and to work towards a lasting agreement”.
Timed to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel, the embassy opening was a provocative move that was met with international condemnation and warnings that it would prompt clashes and bloodshed.
The human rights group, Amnesty International, said the shootings on Monday were “another horrific example of the Israeli military using excessive force and live ammunition in a totally deplorable way”.
But amid the protests, emotions were high. Palestinians have been protesting at the border since March 30, in part to mark the “nakba”, or catastrophe, and commemorate the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes in the 1948 war around the creation of the state of Israel.
One protester, a science teacher in Gaza called Ali, said: “Today is the big day when we will cross the fence and tell Israel and the world we will not accept being occupied forever.
“Many may get martyred today, so many, but the world will hear our message. Occupation must end,” he added.
At the embassy, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in support of Trump over fulfilling a long-standing US promise to move the embassy to the holy city and over the president’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal last week, echoed the sentiment.
“What a moving day for the people of Israel and the State of Israel,” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter.
The Palestinians killed on Monday reportedly included a 14-year-old boy, a medic and a man in a wheelchair who had been pictured on social media using a slingshot. No Israeli casualties have been reported.
In a statement, the Israeli military said: “The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) will act forcefully against any terrorist activity and will operate to prevent attacks against Israelis.”