US President Donald Trump hailed Monday’s opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem as “a great day for Israel,” while deadly Hamas-spurred clashes raged between Palestinians and Israeli security forces on the Gaza Strip border.
Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said at least 45 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire and nearly 1,000 were injured amid mass protests on the border in commemoration of the Palestinian Nakba Day, which marks the “catastrophe” of Israel’s founding 70 years ago. The Israeli military said Hamas was making repeated efforts to breach the border, which it was repelling.
Trump made no reference to the violence in an early morning tweet, instead inviting his followers to watch live coverage of the embassy dedication ceremony on Fox News.
“Lead up to 9:00 A.M. (eastern) event has already begun. A great day for Israel!” Trump tweeted.
Some 800 guests were participating in the embassy dedication. Representing the US at the opening were US Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, the president’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump, and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt. US Ambassador David Friedman was presiding over the dedication ceremony.
Meanwhile, the Israeli army said some 50,000 Gazans were demonstrating in 12 locations along the border with Israel. It said thousands more were gathered at points several hundred meters from the fence.
The army said three of those killed were trying to plant explosives at the border fence. It said aircraft struck a Hamas post after gunmen there opened fire on troops. There were also Palestinian reports of airstrikes in Jabalia, in the northern Gaza Strip.
In a separate incident, IDF troops opened fire on gunmen who were trying to shoot them, Hadashot TV news said.
Military sources said Hamas was determined to spark a major new, long-term uprising against Israel, extending to the West Bank.
Hadashot said the Palestinian Authority was encouraging the protests, including by showing the Gaza border clashes on television in a live feed. In the West Bank, where the PA governs Palestinians, several thousand people gathered in the center of Ramallah, while hundreds marched to the Qalandiya crossing on the outskirts of Jerusalem where protesters threw stones at Israeli troops.
Jerusalem’s status is perhaps the thorniest issue in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel considers the entire city its capital, while the Palestinians see its eastern neighborhoods as the capital of their future state.
Trump announced on December 6, 2017, that he was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would move the embassy to the city from Tel Aviv.
The development delighted the Israeli government, but angered Palestinians who want the eastern part of the city as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Most European countries have slammed Trump’s move as not in line with international consensus, preferring to wait on recognizing the city until the status of Jerusalem is finalized in talks with the Palestinians.
Israel said ahead of Monday’s protests that Hamas was planning to breach the Gaza border fence and “massacre” Israelis, and that it would stop a possible border breach at all costs, warning protesters that they were putting their own lives in peril.
The protests come as part of the “March of Return” demonstrations along the Gaza security fence. Israel was braced for more than 100,000 Palestinians to take part on Monday, and potentially as many as 200,000. That kind of turnout would indicate a major victory for the Hamas terrorist group, which rules Gaza and has co-opted for its own ends what were originally billed as weeks of nonviolent protests.