Israeli forces killed at least 41 Palestinians along the Gaza border on Monday as angry protesters demonstrated at the frontier on the day the United States opened its embassy in Jerusalem, health officials said.
It was the highest Palestinian death toll in a single day since a series of protests dubbed the “Great March of Return” began at the border with Israel on March 30, and since the 2014 Gaza war.
The health officials said 900 Palestinians were wounded, about 450 of them by live bullets.
Tens of thousands streamed to the coastal enclave’s land border on Monday, some approaching the Israeli fence – a line Israeli leaders said Palestinians would not be allowed to breach. Clouds of black smoke from tyres set alight by demonstrators rose in the air.
Demonstrators, some armed with slingshots, hurled stones at the Israeli security forces, who fired volleys of tear gas and intense rounds of gunfire.
“Today is the big day when we will cross the fence and tell Israel and the world we will not accept being occupied forever,” said Gaza science teacher Ali, who declined to give his last name.
“Many may get martyred today, so many, but the world will hear our message. Occupation must end,” he said.
Israeli leaders and a U.S. delegation including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and President Donald Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, were due to attend the opening of the embassy, relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in a controversial decision.
“A great day for Israel,” the U.S. president, who stoked Arab anger by recognizing disputed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December, said in a tweet.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in lockstep with Trump over fulfilling a long-standing U.S. promise to move the embassy to the holy city and over Washington’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 said.
The Palestinians, who seek their own future state with its capital in East Jerusalem, have been outraged by Trump’s shift from previous administrations’ preference for keeping the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv pending progress in peace efforts.
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.