Gaza braced for fresh violence after dozens of Palestinians shot dead
‘Great March of Return’ protests against new US embassy in Jerusalem and Israel’s 70th anniversary
Dozens of Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces yesterday during huge demonstrations against Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Jerusalem on the 70th anniversary of the creation of Israel.
In a series of skirmishes along the Gaza border involving as many as 35,000 people, the Palestinian Ministry of Health says 55 Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli gunmen. Some 2,700 others were reportedly injured.
It is the largest number of fatalities in a single day since the latest round of protests broke out six weeks ago.
More violence is expected today, as Palestinians mark the anniversary of what they call the Nakba (the “catastrophe”) - the establishment of Israel, which led to thousands fleeing what had been Palestine.
“Tensions will be particularly high in Gaza,” says the BBC, “where funerals for those killed on Monday are due to take place.”
Dubbed the “Great March of Return”, yesterday’s protests reached a climax hours before the US opened its new embassy in Jerusalem.
Tens of thousands of protesters had streamed to the coastal enclave’s land border, some approaching the Israeli fence - a line Israeli leaders said Palestinians would not be allowed to breach.
Journalists near the Gaza-Israel border heard gunfire in spurts and saw a tank moving towards the fence in the border area of Malaka, CNN reports. Israeli drones also dropped tear gas over a crowd of protesters.
“Today is the big day when we will cross the fence and tell Israel and the world we will not accept being occupied forever,” one Palestinian protester told Reuters.
Al-Jazeera said one of its reporters was wounded while covering the demonstrations.
The Israel Defence Force (IDF) blamed the protests on the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, accusing it of “leading a terrorist operation” and inciting protesters to throw Molotov cocktails, burn tires and throw stones at soldiers stationed along the border fence.
In response to the violence along its border wall, the IDF said a fighter jet had struck five “terrorist targets” at a Hamas military training facility in Gaza.
But Israel’s heavy-handed response has drawn sharp condemnation from around the world.
“In theory, at least, the Israeli military’s rules of engagement for demonstrations are largely clear,” says The Guardian’s Peter Beaumont – that soldiers are only permitted to open fire during a demonstration if lives are deemed to be under threat.
In practice, however, what is deemed an appropriate use of force varies widely. Israel’s interpretation of the rules had already been criticised by a senior UN official and Israeli human rights groups even before yesterday’s deaths.