Dozens dead as embassy opens in Jerusalem
15 May 2018; Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller Australian Associated Press•
At least 55 Palestinians have died in the deadliest day of fighting since the border protests began
Israeli troops have shot dead dozens of Palestinian protesters on the Gaza border as the United States opened its embassy to Israel in Jerusalem, a move that has fuelled Palestinian anger and drawn foreign criticism that it undermines peace efforts.
It was the bloodiest single day for Palestinians since the Gaza conflict in 2014. Palestinian Health Ministry officials said 55 protesters were killed and 2700 injured either by live gunfire, tear gas or other means.
The bloodshed drew calls for restraint from some countries, including France and Britain, and stronger criticism from others, with Turkey calling it “a massacre”.
The White House declined to join in urging Israel to exercise restraint and pinned the blame squarely on Gaza’s ruling Hamas group – backing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who described the Israeli military’s actions as self-defence of his country’s borders. In contrast to the scenes in Gaza, Israeli dignitaries and guests attended a ceremony in Jerusalem to open the US Embassy following its relocation from Tel Aviv.
The move fulfilled a pledge by President Donald Trump, who in December recognised the holy city as the Israeli capital. Netanyahu thanked Trump for “having the courage to keep your promises”. “What a glorious day for Israel,” he said in a speech. “We are in Jerusalem and we are here to stay.”
Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they hope to establish in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Israel regards all of the city, including the eastern sector it captured in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move that is not recognised internationally, as its “eternal and indivisible capital”.
Most countries say the status of Jerusalem – a sacred city to Jews, Muslims and Christians – should be determined in a final peace settlement and that moving their embassies now would prejudge any such deal.
Peace talks aimed a finding a two-state solution to the conflict have been frozen since 2014.
Trump, in a recorded message, said he remained committed to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. He was represented at the ceremony by his daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, US envoy to the Middle East.
Kushner said it was possible for both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to gain more than give in any peace deal.
“Jerusalem must remain a city that brings people of all faiths together,” he said in a speech.
But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the United States had opened an “American settlement outpost in East Jerusalem”. He called the deaths in Gaza a massacre and announced a general strike on Tuesday.
South Africa said it was withdrawing its ambassador to Israel until further notice following what it called the “indiscriminate and grave” attack on Monday.
The 55 deaths included at least six people under 18 years of age, including one girl. The total number of fatalities since a series of protests to demand Palestinians’ right to return to their ancestral homes in Israel is now 100.