Tear gas is fired at protestors during clashes with Israeli forces near the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, east of Gaza City on May 14, 2018, following the controversial move to Jerusalem of the United States embassy. (THOMAS COEX / AFP)
UNITED NATIONS/RAMALLAH/GAZA/JERUSALEM - Israeli troops shot dead dozens of Palestinian protesters on the Gaza border on Monday when the high-profile opening 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 60 protesters were killed and 2,700 injured
In the bloodiest single day for Palestinians since 2014, Palestinian Health Ministry officials said 61 protesters were killed and 2,700 injured 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 regional power Turkey calling it "a massacre".
Condemning the opening of the US embassy, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah city, "what we saw in Jerusalem today was not the opening of an embassy, but the opening of an American settlement outpost."
Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Saeb Erekat said that the leadership decided to file a legal case against Israel at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over settlement activity on the occupied Palestinian territory. He said the PLO leadership also decided to limit relations with Israel and implement the decisions of the Palestinian National Council held last April.
The UN Security Council is expected to hold an emergency meeting over the next 24 hours to address the violent clashes, Riyad Mansour, permanent observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations, told reporters at the UN headquarters in New York.
The White House declined to join in urging Israel to exercise caution 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 siding squarely with Israel, Washington put distance between itself and its European allies for the second time in a week, after angering France, Germany and others last Tuesday by abandoning an international nuclear deal with Iran.
In contrast to the violent 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 US 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".
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's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December outraged Palestinians, who said the United States could no longer serve as an honest broker in any peace process.
A senior Hamas leader, Khalil Al-Hayya, said at a border encampment that Monday's protest was timed to coincide with the "deplorable crime of moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem".
In Gaza, Palestinian protests quickly turned into bloodshed.
Tens of thousands had streamed to the edge of the coastal enclave's land border, some approaching the Israeli fence.
The protests, which have been going on for weeks, are scheduled to culminate on Tuesday, the day Palestinians mourn as the "Nakba" or "Catastrophe" when, in 1948, hundreds of thousands of them were driven out of their homes or fled the fighting around Israel's creation.
Netanyahu blamed Hamas for the Gaza violence. "Every country has an obligation to defend its borders," he wrote on Twitter. "The Hamas terrorist organisation declares it intends to destroy Israel and sends thousands to breach the border fence in order to achieve this goal. We will continue to act with determination to protect our sovereignty and citizens."
Hamas denied instigating the violence, but the White House backed Netanyahu. "The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas. Hamas is intentionally and cynically provoking this response," White House spokesman Raj Shah toldreporters.
The deceased 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 103.
They also included a medic and a man in a wheelchair who had been pictured on social media using a slingshot. The Israeli military said three of those killed were armed militants who tried to place explosives near the fence.
CALLS FOR RESTRAINT
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.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he plans to talk to all involved parties in the region over the next few days.
Britain said it had no plans to move its Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and disagreed with the US decision to do so. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the US move flouted international law.
Turkey accused Israeli security forces of carrying out a massacre and said the US embassy move had encouraged them.
A relative of Palestinian Mahmoud Abu Taima, who was killed during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border, mourns during his funeral in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 14, 2018. Palestinians followed through with their vow to protest massively along the Gaza border with tens of thousands demonstrating and 58 killed by Israeli fire as clashes erupted over the controversial inauguration of the US embassy in Jerusalem. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)
The United States on Monday blocked a Kuwait-drafted UN Security Council statement that would have expressed “outrage and sorrow at the killing of Palestinian civilians” and called for an independent and transparent investigation, UN diplomats said.
More than 2 million people are crammed into the narrow Gaza strip, which is blockaded by Egypt and Israel.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Israel security forces to exercise maximum restraint in the use of live fire and called on Hamas, who governs Gaza, and the protest leaders to prevent violent actions and provocations.
President of the UN General Assembly Miroslav Lajcak also expressed concern over the matter, saying "I regret the loss of life. And I call for calm, restraint and dialogue."
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